To Your Health
December, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 12)
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Lift At Your Own Risk

By Perry Nickelston, DC, FMS, SFMA

Tis' the season for giving and spending precious time with loved ones during a magical time of year. Unfortunately, tis' also the season for back, neck and shoulder injuries. The risk and possibility of injury don't take a holiday break because Santa comes to town. As a matter of fact, your body is more susceptible to injury during the holiday season from the increased mental and physical stressors. We often get so caught up in simply trying to keep up that we let our guard down - and that's when injuries strike.

The proverbial holiday weight gain and increased sedentary lifestyle simply flame the fire. Add to that extreme cold weather conditions, icy surfaces, lifting boxes of presents, putting up trees, installing inside/outside lights, emotional stress, lugging the kids around, and the in-laws, and it's a wonder we survive.

santa lifting - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Fear not, for there are many strategies and tips you can take into "holiday battle" to ensure you are the injury-free victor. As they say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Your body has a remarkable ability to respond to its external environment via a biological survival mechanism known as homeostasis. This mechanism has been a part of human nature since prehistoric times. Its only purpose is to protect you from harm and maintain the status quo of body function. Homeostasis is the tendency of a system, especially the physiological system, to maintain internal stability by coordinated response to any situation or stimulus that would tend to disturb its normal condition or function. Simply stated, your body does anything and everything necessary to adapt and survive to its surroundings. You can think of it as a compensation system for protection. And, if we ever needed protection, it's during the holidays. So let's go through our very own holiday checklist of risk management and injury prevention. Make a list and check it twice, because that back pain can be naughty or nice.

All Boxes Are Not Created Equal

I can't tell you how many times patients have crawled into my office with agonizing low back pain after attempting to lift a box that was heavier than they expected. The culprit is typically a smaller box that looks deceptively light because of its size. Don't fall for it! One safety tip is to lightly kick or push the box with your foot to determine how heavy it is before you commit to the lift. Muscles get injured from altered weight differences because your core stabilization muscles are not fully engaged in preparation for the movement.

man lifting - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Your core muscles stabilize and support your back to prevent injury. If they engage too late, your body does not have adequate time to catch up to your brain's signal for strength and stability. The result: Your body must now activate other smaller muscles to assist in completing the lift. These muscles are not designed to be the primary movers; therefore, they become overused and injury occurs. It only takes a second for everything to go wrong. So the lesson here is to take extra time to test the weight of an object before you lift. Every second counts.

Also remember to always lift with your hips, not your back. Proper lifting technique is crucial in preventing low back pain. How you lift makes all the difference in how much your back ends up disliking you. The average person who is not skilled in proper lifting techniques will simply bend over at the waist and pick something up without a second thought. Bad idea! This is what causes most low back injuries.

For example, you are headed to the kitchen for another cup of eggnog and you notice one of the kid's new toys on the floor. You make a small pit stop and bend over to pick it up - and feel that terrible pain strike the very essence of your soul. Now you are stuck! Sound familiar? The key to proper lifting is to lift with your hips and buttocks, not your back. The hip complex and buttock muscles are designed to give you powerful stability and control.