First, how many of us know exactly how our backs are built?  According to the National Ag Safety Database, (NASD), your backbone is made up of 24 individual bones called vertebrae that are stacked on top of one another.  Vertebrae are separated by soft discs of cartilage that performs as shock absorbers for your vertebrae.  They help your back to bend, twist, and move around.  Most of the support to your spine is maintained by your stomach muscles, as well as the many muscles and ligaments that run up and down the length of your back. 

If we all could get a picture of what our backs actually look like, it’s doubtful that it would be as well lined up as the description.  The base of my spine is not lined up as it should be, and when I try to use my stomach muscles, it hurts my back.  I also sit at a computer all day, and my posture is not straight, as it should be. Slouching makes the back ligaments, not the muscles, stretch and hurt, thus putting pressure on the vertebrae.  If you work at a desk job, the best way to sit is straight, with your back against the back of the chair, and your feet flat on the floor, and your knees slightly higher than your hips.  When standing, stand tall, with your head up and shoulders back.  (Teach your children to get in the habit of good posture.)

Many persons carry excess weight, such as potbellies, which exert extra force on back and stomach muscles.  Your back is trying to support the weight out in front by swaying backwards, which causes excess strain on the lower back muscles.  Losing weight can reduce strain and pain in your back.  Having strong back and stomach muscles is important in order to ease the work your back goes through daily.  

Many times we sleep on mattresses that are not firm enough for good support.  You could try placing plywood between your box springs and mattress for better back support.  Either sleep on your side with your knees bent, or on your back with a pillow under your knees for support.  When driving, keep your back straight against the seat and close enough to the wheel so your knees are bent and are slightly higher than your hips.  

My work experience causes me to reflect on years of lifting heavy boxes full of files, rather than ask someone to help me.  I surely have paid for it, but not as seriously as others, who lift heavy objects all day long.  In my case, I could have asked for a little help, and it would have eliminated the risk of hurting my back.  We often don’t think about the object that we are going to lift, or how we are going to go about the task.  Plan your lifts in advance – think about the weight of the object you will be moving and how far you are moving it.  Eliminate any hazards that you see could be eliminated ahead of time.  And never fail to ask for help when you need it. 

We all know the standard rule: lift with your legs, not your back.  Slowly squat down by bending your knees, not your back and stomach.  With both hands, firmly grab the load and bring it close to your body.  Once it is close to your body, slowly straighten out your legs until you are standing upright.  Make sure you can see where you are going, as you walk slowly to your destination.  

Once you have reached your target, it is equally important to unload the object properly.  Reverse the lifting procedures just described and you will reduce the strain on your back and stomach muscles.  If necessary to set the load on the ground, squat down by bending your knees and position the load out in front of you.  Remember, if it is too heavy, bulky, or awkward for you to lift alone, find someone to help you with it.  I have found that now, when I fill file boxes, I only fill them half-full, and carry that to the car to be returned to our office; then I carry the other half of the files and place them in the box in my car.  It’s sure easier than trying to carry the whole thing.  Also, you may want to find a cart to transport your load.

Remember, it is easier to prevent a back injury than to repair one.  It is necessary to take care of your back because your back is critically important to your ability to walk, sit, stand, and run.  There are all types of lifting belts, back supports, and other ergonomic products that can support your back.  


Pat Brownlee writes for Blog4Safety, owned by parent company, Texas America Safety Company, Brownwood, Texas.