By Leena S. Guptha, DO, MBA, BCTMB, PCOM Academic Dean of Graduate Studies
It is a fact: 8 out of 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Over the years (dare I say decades) I have worked with many clients experiencing back pain—especially during this time of the year, when many of my regular clients share stories of finally finding the courage to clean out the garage or basement, help a friend move into a new place, or plan to move their children to the college dorm. Their productivity is contagious!
With that said, it is important for all of us to be aware of the proper lifting techniques and posture required to avoid the infamous “Oh, my back!” that causes certified massage therapists and clients alike to cringe! In this month’s blog, we will explore:
- What can happen to our body when we lift something heavy,
- Some tips for proper lifting techniques, and
- Benefits of regular visits to your massage therapist to assist in pain-relief and help to prevent future injuries.
What Happens to Your Body When You Lift Heavy Objects?
We all know what it feels like to lift something we should not have, but have you ever stopped to think about what is actually happening to your body when you lift that heavy box?
The best way for me to explain is to share from personal experience. When I was a child, my father claimed that his hobby was “fixing up old cars”. I cannot actually recall him getting any of them to be road-worthy as such, but one day in the early 1970s, he stooped to pick up a car battery and twisted with the battery in hand. There it was—that instant, sharp, agonizing pain and the beginning of his chronic back pain history!
When we begin with a poor stance, all of the weight of the object we are attempting to lift (even if it is not too heavy!) can be absorbed by just one of any of the spinal segments until we straighten up. In my father’s case, stooping forward and twisting was even worse as it led to a disc protrusion. He felt an excruciating electric shock of pain as the nerve root impingement made itself known, not to mention the muscle spasms throughout the lumbar region, followed by severe muscle weakness… all from one seemingly innocent lifting episode! Over 40 years later, he can still recall that first episode of searing pain. Like my father, many of us have experienced that acute, sudden pain, or know someone who has, and I am sure we can all agree with the old adage “prevention is better than a cure!”
Proper Lifting Techniques Everyone Should Know
If you know that there is no way to avoid lifting a few boxes this summer, let’s make a pact to lift them the RIGHT way!
Four simple (and healthy!) steps to lifting boxes the safe way:
- Stand close to the box with your feet spread shoulder width apart (Psst! One foot should be slightly in front of the other for balance).
- Squat down slowly, bending at the knees (not your waist). Tuck your chin while keeping your back as vertical as possible.
- Get a firm grasp of the box before beginning to lift.
- Slowly begin straightening your legs, lifting slowly. Never twist your body during this step.
The best part? These steps can be applied to any heavy lifting or moving you may have to do, not just lifting boxes. By keeping these four steps in mind each time you may need to help out with some chores around the house, you will have a much greater chance of protecting your back.
How Massage Therapy Complements Back Pain
We are all human. We may not always think through the four steps mentioned above before we lift something. That is why I strongly recommend speaking with your massage therapist about any back pain before you begin your regular session. Massage therapy can provide numerous benefits to relieve your back pain, but it also is a great preventative tool to avoid it in the first place!
In my father’s case, massage therapy and regular bodywork in his hometown of London has been a saving grace in managing his three prolapsed lumbar discs, saving him from the need for cortisone, discectomy, laminectomy, sleeping on a door (advice from our family doctor in 1974!), and other pharmaceutical agents. If you suffer from back pain, you, too, can benefit from regular massage therapy sessions.
Some of the benefits of regular massage therapy for back pain are:
- Improving local circulation,
- Invigorating the local musculature around the lumbar spine and pelvis,
- Creating good tone in both stabilizing and supporting muscles of the lower back,
- Stretching essential and powerful muscle groups (i.e. quadriceps and hamstrings),
- Helping to prevent back pain recurrences,
- Bring postural and body awareness,
- Enabling activities of daily life,
- Supporting a healthy lifestyle,
- And much more!
Though an anecdotal example, my father (at age 83½!) lives pain free and continues with regular visits to his bodyworker to help relieve back pain. Your massage therapist can help prevent back pain for you, too; it is not a cure, but may very well enable you to live a happier and more active lifestyle as you seek to combat the what I call the “Daily Grind”.
Above all, it is most important to have an open and honest conversation with your massage therapist to ensure you are addressing all back pain related issues before your regular sessions begin. Your massage therapist can provide you with a range of tips for improving posture, proper lifting techniques, and more to enable your back pain to remain a thing of the past.
Share with us! What summer projects do you have in mind that will utilize the four healthy lifting tips?
Be sure to stop by again soon and share your experiences with us. We love hearing how massage therapy works for you!
Leena S. Guptha – DO, MBA, BCTMB
PCOM Academic Dean of Graduate Studies
Past AMTA National President, Past NCBTMB Chair