Lifting and Back Pain
This recent Daily Mail article is stoking up some debate and we can’t help but sit back and enjoy the commotion (although we wished we stayed away from the comments section). So, what’s going on? Is lifting with a rounded back safe? Or is it indeed the quickest way to destroy your spine?
Here’s Chews Health’s Clinical Lead Mark Reid to give his take on the matter.
Whilst it seems intuitive that lifting with a rounded back would cause more back pain and injury there is a distinct lack of evidence to support that theory (at least in living humans). The theory dates back to some early studies into the mechanics of mammalian spines (1, 2, 3) which showed, amongst other things, that repeatedly flexing a cadaveric spine in a mechanical jig caused spinal discs to eventually fail and rupture.
However, unlike our non-breathing and often non-human counterparts, us living humans have the ability to adapt to the forces that are put through the body and spinal discs are no different; so it isn’t clear that the findings of those early studies are wholly relevant to the advice on lifting technique that is given today. In fact, there is some (albeit limited) evidence to show that loading the spine in certain ways may actually help to keep our discs healthy such as this one in runners.
Furthermore, attributing disc bulges as the sole cause or even a leading cause of low back pain is likely a step too far as the vast majority of disc ‘problems’ are non-symptomatic and most people never even know that they have them.
These are just a few reasons amongst many as to why we can’t make the statement that lifting with a rounded back is inherently bad from an injury perspective. And so, it is important to study the effect that lifting technique has on the prevalence of low back pain in as many different populations as we can.
This particular article that has caused so much commotion has attempted to challenge the commonly held belief that spinal flexion is bad. It is certainly a welcome addition to the evidence base and it also nicely fits our bias that lifting with a rounded back is not necessarily bad for everyone.
Does this then mean that lifting with a rounded back should be encouraged to avoid pain and injury? Well, also no. Using the findings of any individual studies to recommend a particular lifting technique would be as foolish as using the early biomechanical studies to do the same thing.
So what is Chews Health’s advice for lifting?
In an area of such scientific ambiguity (and we have taken a deep dive into this in the past) perhaps it is best to make no blanket statements at all on which movements are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and assess these things on an individual basis.
If you lift a certain way without any issues, probably don’t worry too much about changing technique and if back pain does start, don’t be too quick to blame your lifting technique when other factors may well be more important.
If you are having problems lifting with a rounded back, or even pain when lifting with a straight back, try changing things a little and see how that helps, if it’s more comfortable to change technique, try using that movement more often.
In almost every case of low back pain there a plethora of factors that are contributing to it and lifting technique might be one of them, or it might be very little to do with it. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with low back pain then why not book in for a comprehensive assessment with one of our Physiotherapists who can set you back on the road to recovery.