Heavy Lifting and Back Injury at the Workplace

Heavy lifting and back injury at the workplace
Back injuries at work

Written By: Dr. Jassin Jouria

A 45-year-old female presents to the Emergency Room complaining of low back pain. She states that she was at work assisting an obese patient out of bed when she experienced a sharp pain in her lower back. She says the pain is worse with bending over and standing up. She describes the pain as constant and aching, but sharp and radiating with any movement. The Emergency Room physician orders a CT of the lumbar spine to evaluate for intervertebral disc injury.

Heavy Lifting and Back Injury- A Devastating Workplace Injury

A lot of employees have got heavy lifting as part of their job routines daily. Heavy lifting might seem to be beneficial to the health of an employee. This is when it is viewed as an exercise because heavy lifting promotes strength, cardiovascular fitness, and even good bone health. However, heavy lifting places strain on various body parts, including the spine.

Statistics about Back Injury in the Workplace

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one million workers suffer back injuries annually. Also, back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries. Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, laborers and hand-material movers experienced 10, 660 cases of back injuries.

What Causes Back Injury When Heavy Lifting?

In most scenarios, back injuries during heavy lifting occur due to poor lifting technique or poor posture. One of the common problems with heavy lifting is rounding the back. This can put your hips at awkward angles that strain the alignments around your spine.

You mustn’t overextend your back, this is why you need to engage your pelvis and keep your shoulders stable. Some back injuries are more likely than others. The two most common back injuries are associated with heavy lifting:

  • Herniated Disc: This occurs when the intervertebral disc becomes damaged and ruptures. The intervertebral disc acts as a shock absorber for the spine.
  • Muscle and Ligament Tears: Muscle and ligament tears are very painful and can be debilitating. When muscle and ligament tears occur, the healing process could cause a scar to form. These scars can pose problems such as shortening of the muscle.

Several factors can be attributed to back pain at work. The three main factors are:

  • Force: Heavy lifting can put too much force on your back, this can cause back injury.
  • Repetition: Repeating certain movements while lifting heavy objects (rotating a twisting your spine) can injure your back.

How to Prevent Back Injury from Heavy Lifting?

Heavy lifting is a routine that works for all muscle groups as well as affects your back. There are no guarantees that you won’t experience back injury from heavy lifting.

But there are a few things you can do to prepare your body. This helps avoid the strain and stress it is about to experience from heavy lifting. By preparing your body, you will be able to reduce the likelihood of a back injury.

The preventative steps include:

  • Warm up properly and stretch before your session.
  • Make sure you don’t use your back to lift the weight and instead use the muscles that you are targeting
  • Use less weight
  • Wear a belt to remind you of the correct posture to assume when heavy lifting and to help support your spine
  • Switch up the areas of your body you are working on so that you do not over-exert the same muscles.
  • When heavy lifting, get close to the object, tighten your stomach and bend your knees. Use your leg to support your body as you stand and hold the object close to your body. Always ask someone to help you if the object is too heavy.
  • Always change your position often if you must sit for a prolonged period. Walk around as often as possible to stretch your muscles and relieve tension.
  • Choose a chair that supports your lower back to promote good posture when sitting.
  • Always listen to your body
  • Walking out and engaging in aerobic activities can increase endurance and strength in your back.
  • Swimming can improve the health and strength of your back.
  • Ensure that you always try to maintain a healthy weight. So if you are overweight, you might want to trim it down.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects that are beyond your strength. Only lift heavy objects you can carry with less effort. You can also get help when an object is too heavy.
  • Try to keep your back straight while holding the heavy object.
  • You can use gentle massage to help improve spasms in the back muscles.
Heavy lifting and back injury at the workplace
Heavy lifting and back injury

When to See a Doctor?

Most of the back injuries that occur after heavy lifting at the workplace can gradually improve with a workplace or home treatment and self-care, within a short period. However, you might decide to visit a doctor if your back injury:

  • Is severe and does not improve with rest
  • Causes numbness, weakness, or tingling in one or both legs
  • This leads to pain in one or both legs, especially if it extends below the knee
  • Persists past a month
  • Causes bladder or bowel problems
  • This leads to a fever

Avoid These Exercises during Recovery

Avoiding these exercises during recovery is important unless your doctor recommends it. Here they are:

  • Golf
  • Weight Lifting
  • Dancing
  • Jogging
  • Sit-ups
  • Leg Lifts

If you experience a back injury as a result of heavy lifting, you should immediately seek medical attention. Also, talk to your Employer or the Medical Centre at your workplace. Also, pass out the information to your colleagues at the workplace to avoid similar things from happening.

If you have suffered back injuries during heavy lifting, let the occupational therapist at your workplace know. You will need a thorough assessment from an occupational therapist if you wish to continue receiving therapy or compensation for your injury. This can help your employer enforce policies to prevent other employees from suffering similar injuries.

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Meet the Author Dr. Jassin Jouria
Dr. Jassin Jouria is a practicing Emergency Medicine Physician who specializes in resuscitation of critical patients. The majority of his clinical work is at the Decatur County Memorial Hospital Emergency Department in Greensburg, Indiana. Learn More About the Author.


  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/back-pain/art-20044526
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002119.htm
  3. https://essr.umd.edu/about/occupational-safety-health/ergonomics/back-injuries-fact-sheet#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Bureau%20of,five%20workplace%20injuries%20or%20illnesses.
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/back-pain/art-20044526
  5. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lumbar-strain-weight-lifters-back

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