To Bend or to Squat?

March 28, 2016

My patients often want to know the best way to lift heavy objects.  Each patient's ability will depend on a few factors.  Namely, their strength/fitness level and their injury history.  People without a history of back pain and those in better shape will likely have less issues.  A good analogy is a runner with a history of an ankle sprain.  They can still run and if they rehabilitated their ankle well, they will likely be able to run well.  They are however, still at an increased risk for another ankle sprain.  The ligaments are not as strong as they once were and they likely have some increased motion in the joint.  The same goes for back issues.  A previous injury or pain likely points to increased motion in one or more joints in the back along with laxity in ligaments.  People with these issues should be very careful not to lift with their spine in more than one plane of motion.  Our backs can move in three planes of motion.  They can move:

 

1) Forward/Backward

2) Rotate/Twist

3) Right/Left

 

Whenever we put our backs into one plane of motion we make ourselves more vulnerable to a low back injury.  As we add additional planes of motion we find ourselves even more vulnerable.  For instance, as we bend forward and then reach for something on the floor with one hand, we then twist and bend to the right (or left depending on the hand).  This will put our low back in the most vulnerable position and set us up for an injury.  The weaker you are or the more injuries you've had in the past the more issues this maneuver will cause.  Squatting can be helpful in that it usually limits the amount you can rotate/twist or move right/left, but can cause increased stress on the knees and hips.  It is important to work with a Musculoskeletal Specialist to help located possible problem areas and design the best strategy that will work for each person.