Proper Lifting Mechanics

By Ron Salazar, PT, ATC

Proper Lifting Mechanics

By Ron Salazar, PT, ATC

Back pain and injury have several causes including trauma, poor body mechanics, poor posture, and decreased strength and flexibility. However, the back is most susceptible to injury when lifting. Having a basic understanding and knowledge of the back and proper lifting technique is essential to prevention of back injury.

Low Back Pain

The back consists of vertebrae (bones of the spine) and discs which are located between each vertebra. Muscles and ligaments are also present to support the spine and to maintain the position of three natural curves in the neck, upper back, and lower back. This is called the neutral spine position. It is the range between too much arching and too much flattening of the back. The neutral spine position is the most stable and most comfortable position for the back. When this neutral position is lost, increased stresses may cause back pain and injury. Improper lifting mechanics promote this loss of a neutral spine position causing potential injury to the muscles, ligaments, discs, and/or vertebrae.

Avoid These Things When Lifting Weights

There are several things to avoid when lifting that will help prevent back injury. First, refrain from lifting objects that are too heavy for one person to safely lift. Second, do not lift in an unsteady, uncontrolled, and unsafe manner. Third, avoid lifting or holding an object away from the body. Fourth, never bend forward (rounding the back) keep the knees extended, and do not extend your trunk to perform the lift. Fifth and most important, do not twist the back when lifting.

JOI Weight Lifting

Lifting weights

Safe Lifting  Mechanics

Now that common lifting mistakes have been discussed, guidelines for correct, safe lifting mechanics are more clear.

1) Keep a wide base of support to reduce unsteadiness and to maximize leverage – position feet approximately shoulder width apart. 2) Get close to the object you are picking up, and keep it close to your body during the lift. 3) Maintain neutral spine posture – keep your trunk straight, chest out and shoulders back. 4) Let the legs do the work! (not the back) – squat down to pick up the object; slowly lift the object by straightening the hips and knees. In setting down the object, adhere to the same body mechanics/spine posture as when picking up the object – again use the legs, but this time to squat down to set the object down.

In summary, using safe, proper lifting mechanics is the key component to preventing back pain and injury when performing lifting activities. Good lifting technique incorporates maintenance of neutral spine posture, thus reducing potential risk of injury to the muscle, ligaments, bones, and discs of the back

How to properly lift weights

Image of Free Weights

What Do I Do If I Get Hurt? 

Often I am asked as a therapist, what do I do if I hurt myself lifting weights.  Should I use heat or ice?

Heat or Ice?

Throughout the course of a formal rehabilitation program, as well as with many day-to-day injuries, one question is almost always asked: Should I use ice or heat? While both modalities have many benefits, there are certain criteria indicating the use of one over the other.


Ice can be used for many different conditions in both chronic and acute injuries. Cold packs or ice are known to decrease inflammation and swelling, as well as cause vasoconstriction and decrease pain. Cold modalities are typically used for acute (recent) injuries that are still in the inflammation stage of the healing process. This stage typically lasts up to 72 hours following the initial injury and is typically accompanied by pain, swelling, and occasionally bruising, such as an ankle sprain. Cold can also be used for chronic injuries where swelling and inflammation may be present, such as tendonitis. Ice has
relatively few contraindications, or conditions where icing an injury would not be advised. These include use over areas of decreased sensation (nerve injuries) and open wounds.


Heat is typically used for chronic injuries and conditions. Moist heat is believed to increase circulation, cause vasodilatation, decrease muscle spasm and tightness, and decrease pain. Heat is typically applied following the initial inflammation phase of an injury to increase range of motion and decrease muscle tightness. Heat is particularly beneficial for chronic soft tissue or muscular injuries such as strains and tendonitis. It is also helpful for injuries causing muscular tightness or spasm such as low back pain.

Heating modalities cannot be used with acute injuries involving inflammation and swelling, as heat dilates the blood vessels and can make these conditions worse. Heat modalities have several other contraindications where heating an injury would not be advised. These include acute inflammation or swelling, areas of decreased sensation, and over open wounds. Hopefully this information is helpful when considering the use of heat or cold on injuries. Contact your local JOI clinician with further questions on this or any topic concerning rehabilitation or injuries.

Related Article: Muscles Strain

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