Lifting And Bending Properly

By Ehren Allen, DPT/COMT

How To Lift Correctly

Lifting and bending properly is the best way to keep from hurting yourself with daily activity. In the medical world, we call it body mechanics. Using proper techniques takes practice and a little more time. But, it can protect you from injury and excessive wear and tear on your body.

There are several common ways you can modify how you lift and bend to protect your body.  It depends on the:

  • Size of the object
  • Weight of the object
  • How low or high the object is

Why Does Proper Bending and Lifting Technique Matter?

Proper bending and lifting technique allows your body to absorb forces evenly.  That means that the joints of the knees, hips, and spine are in optimal positions to move in ways that translate forces through strong, stable structures.

How Does Bad Lifting Technique Effect the Low Back?

Man with low back injury from improper lifting and bending technique

Low back injury form lifting wrong

A common injury from lifting the wrong way is a low back injury or a herniated disc.  The lumbar spine or lower back has discs between each bone to cushion and add space between them.  Each disc has a thick fibrous outside and a jelly-like inside.  It’s kind of like a jelly donut.  When you bend forward from the low back, the bones and discs flex forward.  This causes the bones to compress the front part or the disc and push the “jelly” toward the back. When you pick up an object in that position, the weight of the object adds to that force. This can cause the jelly to push through the back part of the disc or herniate.  That process can happen slowly over time with lifting improperly, or it can happen all of a sudden with bending and lifting improperly.

lumbar disc herniation from bending and lifting the wrong way

Disc Herniation

If you bend from the back and twist too, that can make the injury even worse.  Imagine a balloon with a book sitting on top of it. The book applies force downward on the balloon and partially squishes the balloon.  Now, imagine that you twist the balloon with the book on top.  The pressure in the balloon increases and applies more force to the outer part of the balloon.  Eventually, as you apply downward, bending, and twisting forces to the balloon, the outer layer is going to weaken and pop.  This is what it is like for the lumbar discs with bad lifting technique.

Watch this VIDEO to learn more about the Anatomy of the Spine.

How Does Bad Bending and Lifting Technique Effect the Knees?

When you bend to pick up an object form the floor, the knees need to bend the correct way.  When the knees bend too far, it causes increased compression between the knee cap (patella) and the thigh bone (femur).  When you pick up an object with the knees bent too far (past 90*), it can injure and wear out the cartilage on the joint surfaces of the knee cap and thigh bone.

Loading the knees while they are fully bent also limits the muscles strength. Fully bent knees keep the thigh muscles out of their optimal length and position to lift an object.

Basic Good Lifting Technique

Basic good lifting technique takes practice. It also takes time to set up properly.

Proper lifting technique from the side with good mechanics

Proper lifting technique from the side with good mechanics

The best position of the body for lifting is:

  1. Keep the low back in an erect position with slight backward curvature
  2. Keep the shoulder blades pulled back
  3. Keep the head and neck looking forward
  4. Hinge or bend from the hip and knees, not the low back
  5. Keep the knees behind the toes as much as possible
  6. Spread your feet apart to have a wide base of support


Front view of proper lifting technique

Front view of proper lifting technique

How to Properly Carry an Object

Once you lift the object from the floor, it is important to use good technique while carrying it.  This involves:

  1. Hold the object against your lower abdomen and pelvis – This allows the weight of the object to transfer to your legs and less on your spine.
  2. Turn by moving your legs. – DO NOT TWIST at the spine if you need to turn.
  3. Ask for help! – If you have to lift or carry a large heavy object, having another person to help is best.
Side view of proper carrying technique with good posture and mechanics

Side view of proper carrying technique with good posture and mechanics

Using a 2-Person Lift and Carry Technique

Using a 2-person lift technique is important to protect your body if you need to lift a heavy, large, or awkwardly shaped object. A 2-person lift uses the same technique as basic lifting. Just have the other person on the other side of the object. Some keys to safe 2-person lift and carry technique are:

  1. Set up properly and make sure there are no obstacles to step over.
  2. Communicate with the other person. Tell the other person if you need to re-position or take a break.
  3. Lift and lower at the same time.
2 person lift or 2 man lift technique is low position

2 person lift down position

2 person lift or 2 man lift half way up position

2 person lift halfway up position

2 person lift or 2 man lift in up position holding a heavy and awkward object

2 person lift in up position

How to Lift Items From High Surfaces

Lifting from higher surfaces requires more set up in some cases. If you can reach the object, check to see how heavy it is before you lift it.  If you feel comfortable with the weight and size, then it is usually ok to proceed.

  1. Slide the object to the edge of the surface before lifting it
  2. When you lift, keep the object close to your body.
  3. If it is safe, slide the object down to your lower abdomen and pelvis.
  4. Then follow normal basic lifting and carry techniques described above.
Proper High shelf lift technique with center of gravity under the object as much as posible

High shelf lift technique

If placing items on higher surfaces, follow these guidelines in reverse.

Related Articles: Proper Squatting Technique and Proper Sitting Posture.

Lifting and Bending Properly Matters!

Following these recommendations can decrease your chance of injury and help you to protect your body over time. Take the extra time and practice lifting and bending properly. Doing it correctly makes a big difference!

If you happen to get hurt lifting and bending, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help. To schedule an appointment, call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. To see a JOI Rehab Physical Therapist, call (904)858-7045.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician

JOI Physicians


Image of Ehren Allen DPT

Ehren Allen, Medical Content Writer

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