Monday, December 6, 2010

Training On The Correct Way To Lift Heavy Objects Does Not Prevent Back Pain

"Training On The Correct Way To Lift Heavy Objects Does Not Prevent Back Pain"

This is not a claim, but the conclusion of a systematic review done by the British Medical Journal (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080131214541.htm). Training here means putting up picture like the one below, with or without some written or verbal instructions. It is a common practice done by employers having the noble objective of preventing staff injury, and, for some, having the less than noble objective of putting up a legal disclaimer.
And the review concluded that training on the correct way to lift heavy objects does not prevent back pain.  The reason was that either the advocated techniques do not actually reduce the risk of back injury, or workers do not significantly change their habits enough for it to make any difference.

In an accompanying editorial Associate Professor Niels Wedderkopp gave the following advice for employees with back pain : "A change of job and (prudently) staying active in daily life may be the best way for these patients to regain command of their back and their occupation."

The professor is certain in the right direction when he said "staying active in daily life". And I shall use this as a starting point for my further explanations.  Let us first look at the picture below:

In order that the heavy object can be lifted up without hurting the back in the long run, a number of points need to be noted:
  1. The lifting force has to be generated from the feet.  And in order to accomplish this, both knees must be turned slightly outwards with the idea or intention that the feet be driven to the ground.  And the action should be done upon lifting up the object.
  2. The spinal cord must be straight.  PLUS - when lifting up the object, the force must be felt as if it is moving down the spinal cord, through the hip joints and down to the soles.  To facilitate this action, the head must be aligned to the back, as if a force is applied to the top of the head that runs down the spinal cord.
  3. The left and right sides must be pre-trained to have equal power, otherwise the spinal cord will be stressed side-way.  As a way of compensation, one must consciously realign the force used on the left and the right, so that the spinal cord won't be tipped to either side.
You might say it is easier said than done.  And you're absolutely right.  Will your swimming coach tell you that you can learn swimming through reading a book?  Stand up and practice some zhan zhuang (click link to check on my "zhan zhuang 101", it is easy and it's fun!




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