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Don’t Let The Heavy Lifting Hurt You

Digging out boxes of holiday decorations, hauling packages to and from the car, hiding gifts away on the higher shelves at the back of your closet … the Holiday Season certainly requires its fair share of bending, lifting and reaching. This,coupled with the cooler weather, makes December the ideal time for a refresher on proper lifting methods.

Back pain and injury can put a real damper on the Holiday Season, yet it’s one of the most common conditions we treat as medical professionals. Fortunately, it’s also a condition that’s very preventable, and one of the ways to keep the spine healthy is learning – and practicing– proper lifting techniques.

Around 80 percent of all Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives, making it one of the top causes of disability in the U.S. And while preventing back pain is of key concern when one does a lot of bending and lifting, it’s not the only concern.

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. 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.

So without further ado, here are a few tips for proper lifting:

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 your lower back as well as your legs and hips. Give a few jumping jacks a try 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. Don’t rush through the process of lifting, and if you’re tired, put it off until later.

Whatever you do, protect your body and prevent injuries and enjoy the holiday season.

Two Fitness tips we learn from the Winter Olympics

While we watch Alpine skiers speed through difficult downhill courses and figure skaters bound balletically across the ice during these Winter Olympics, I can see the importance of two oft-overlooked elements of good fitness and training routines: of balance and flexibility.

When we work to prepare our bodies for a certain activity, or simply for the rigors of living an active lifestyle, we shouldn’t only be focusing on strength and cardio. It’s a good start, but if your balance and flexibility are below par, performance will be limited and the body will be more susceptible to injury.

Few things highlight this more than winter sports and activities, such as those featured during the Winter Olympics because they provide the ultimate challenge to balance and flexibility.  Both balance and flexibility work together to keep these athletes upright while they adapt to new terrain, changes in position, etc. The importance of this is obvious on snow and ice, of course, but the same concept applies in everyday life.

Whether your personal goals include competing better athletically, getting outdoors more for hiking, cycling or (yes) skiing, or simply feeling safer and more confident playing in the backyard with the kids, good balance and flexibility are key.

To help improve balance and flexibility in your life check out these three tips.

Take an Exercise Class: Yoga, Pilates, step classes … they all strive to strengthen your core muscle groups, which are essential in achieving good balance. Plus, these classes often complement indoor cardio and resistance training – training that may do little to help with your balance.

Stretch Every Day: Take 10 to 15 minutes each day to stretch, either in the morning or just before bed. A stretch right before an activity will do little to help you out unless you’ve worked to establish a higher level of flexibility over the long term.

Perform Single-Leg Balance Exercises: Get your body accustomed to relying on one side at a time. Practice standing on one leg while tilting your body forward, back and sideways. Place your hand on a wall, countertop or piece of furniture if you need help balancing. Other single leg balance ideas include ball bounces, standing on a foam pad, and practicing with eyes closed … all in a safe setting, of course.

For a more individualized approach of our course, a physical therapist can help but in the meantime, give one of the tips a try.