Lifting tips to save your back from holiday strain

Warming up, using knees not back are key to preventing injury
EAST FALLS (WPVI) -- How does Santa Claus go around the world at the speed of light, delivering all those gifts, without having back pain when he gets back to the North Pole?

It's easy, says Chris McKenzie, D.P.T., of McKenzie Sports Physical Therapy in East Falls.

Santa uses proper techniques for lifting his sack full of toys in & out of his sleigh, and up and down all those chimneys.

Around 80 percent of all Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives.

It's one of the most common ailments that send people for medical care.

But much back strain and pain is preventable, says McKenzie.

"When we talk about proper lifting techniques, we're talking about protecting the back, yes, but we're also looking to minimize strain on the entire body," McKenzie said. "The goal is to put yourself in a position that allows the body's musculoskeletal system to work as one cohesive unit, without putting too much strain on one area, such as the lower-back or shoulders."

He offers these easy-to-follow pointers:

Warm Up: Don't ever assume your body's ready to lift heavy objects without first being thoroughly warmed up. Take the time to stretch you lower back as well as your legs and hips. Also, do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing to the muscles in your body.

Get Close: Avoid reaching for a heavy or moderate-sized load. Get up nice and close to the box or object to minimize the force (in the arms, shoulders and back) needed to lift, and always hold it close to your body.

Bend & Lift with the Knees: We've all heard this before, and it's true. But in doing so, keep your back straight and your body upright as you lower yourself to the object in question, then use your legs to rise back up.

Get a Grip: This seems to go without saying, but if you can't get a strong, comfortable grip on the object in front of you - even if you know you can carry the weight - don't try to be a hero. Find someone to help you or an alternative way of getting the object from A to B, such as a hand cart or dolly.

Reverse the Steps: When you get to where you're going, set the item down just as you picked it up - but in reverse. Keep it close to the body, lower with the legs and move slowly and deliberately. You can just as easily injure yourself setting objects down as you can picking them up.

"During the process of lifting, keep from twisting or reaching while carrying a load," McKenzie added. "Don't rush through the process of lifting, and if you're tired, put it off until later."
And if you do feel pain during or after lifting, or you have an injury or condition you feel is holding you back from moving properly, visit a physical therapist for a full assessment prior to trying any sort of heavy or awkward lifting.
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