Low back pain, lifting and carrying

Shock news – a review of the evidence indicates that manual handling training (teaching people how to lift and handle loads) has produced little benefit in terms of decreasing low back pain and back injury in the work place.

This may be because…

  1. People are always at more risk with moving/lifting loads – regardless of technique
  2. We’re teaching poorly
  3. The lessons are not applied by people (people don’t do as they’re told – for whatever reason)

Lifting is simply another way of using your body.  As stated in How to get more low back pain, “peak load” and “cumulative load” are predisposing factors for chronic back pain.  So, repeated lifting of heavy loads increases the likelihood that you will experience low back pain.

Your choice is to

  • minimise the lifting/manual handling
  • train to be better at it – and apply the knowledge
  • get stronger
  • a combination of all of the above

Which of these options will you choose?

Minimise the lifting/manual handling

Perhaps this is an obvious one, given the lessons in “causes of low back pain”.  But, perhaps the way to do this is less obvious.  Here are some options…

  • Get someone else to help (or do it for you)
  • Break the job up into smaller chunks of effort

Train to be better at lifting/manual handling

There are a number of principles that are widely accepted.  Even though the evidence is that educating people in how to lift doesn’t reduce low back pain, it may be that this is because not everyone applies the knowledge well.  If you can apply the knowledge well, maybe it will work for you!

Get Stronger

A number of studies show that increasing physical activity – and strengthening exercises in particular – help to decrease low back pain in those who are involved in manual handling.

Tip – try doing them all 🙂

Lifting / Manual handling information


Ask yourself the following questions…

  • Does the load really need to be lifted?
  • Can a trolley be used to help transport it?
  • Have you tested the load before attempting to lift it?
  • Is it a “2 person” lift, rather than one?
  • Are you likely to re-injure yourself?
  • Is there enough room around it to lift it safely?
  • Where are you putting it down?
  • Can you lift it, carry and put it down without twisting?
  • Is the route clear?
  • Is it possible to rest and put the load down somewhere en route?
  • Are you dressed for the job?  Beware of loose clothing.
  • Are there any sharp edges or corners?  Wear lifting gloves.
  • Can you break the load down?
  • Have you got the heavier side (if there is one) is closest to you?  You should have.

Lifting technique

  • Have your feet planted at least shoulder width apart.
  • Having one foot forward of the other makes it easier to maintain control.
  • Slide the load toward you before lifting, so that it is close in to you.
  • If you have to bend to lift, try bending your knees more than your back.
  • Ensure you grab with your palms rather than just your fingers.
  • Lift your head up, which will help you to keep your back straight.
  • Keep your shoulders facing the same direction as your hips.
  • Keep arms close in to your body, keeping the load close to your body too.
  • If the load is tall, make sure it does not block your view.


  • Keep the load in close to you.
  • Take a break if possible.
  • Avoid twisting your body when turning.

 Pushing /pulling a load

  • Use your own body weight to shift a load – lean back to pull it, or lean into the load to push it.  Do not just use muscular effort.
  • When pulling, keep back straight and arms in close to your body.
  • Avoid twisting your body when turning.


Apart from all of that, keep your fingers crossed – back pain is associated with lifting and carrying… Sorry.

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