'Keep your back straight when lifting.' Turns out, that's rubbish advice
New study argues that 'round-back lifting' can be more efficient and no more hazardous to health
“Keep your back straight, bend your knees” has always been the strict exhortation for anyone lifting heavy objects. However, people may have to disregard this previously sacrosanct advice after a group of scientists have called for a review of the accepted guidelines after claiming the technique is based on scant reliable evidence and may even be inferior to a bent-back approach.
A new study argues that while most people instinctively believe lifting with a straight back is common sense, “round-back lifting” is more efficient and no more hazardous.
Published in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain, it points to research conducted on forestry workers that found that those who stooped to pick up their loads expended less energy than those who squatted.
The paper also argues there is “no significant difference” in spinal loads and compression forces between the two postures.
Despite the lack of evidence supporting a straight-back lifting technique, it is commonly believed to be the safest method and is taught to nearly every employee in upon joining a new company.
The UK’s National Health Service website says people should not bend their backs while lifting. Meanwhile, advice from the Health and Safety Executive recommends people squat so their thighs are parallel with the ground before lifting a load, limiting any bending to a small amount at the top of the back.
“Recent studies indicate there is a lack of in vivo (real-life) evidence that supports the notion of using a ‘straight back’ in preference to a ‘round back’ to reduce risk of LBP (lower-back pain),” the researchers at Curtin University in Australia wrote.
They added: “The findings of this study may have implications for ergonomic guidelines and public health information relating to bending and lifting back postures.”
It follows experiments conducted at Aberdeen University which suggested that lifting technique should be determined by the shape of the spine.
Professor Richard Aspden, who led the study, asked: “We’re clearly not all the same, so should guidelines be telling us to lift in the same way?”
Back pain, a significant proportion of which is caused by injury, is estimated to cost thousands of days of lost productivity each year. However, experts have claimed this figure is unnecessarily high owing in part to GPs’ readiness to send patients for surgery.
A review published in The Lancet earlier this year prompted the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy to call for “serious reflection” among doctors. Most cases of lower-back pain respond to simple physical and psychological therapies aimed at keeping people active and able to stay in work.
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