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Protect Your Back at Work continued...

If you don’t work at a desk and you stand or lift things a lot at work, then your job has its own set of back hazards. One of the most important things for someone who stands a lot, whether you’re a grocery clerk or a college professor, is wearing the correct kind of shoe. “You want the right type of cushion and sole,” says Polivka. “Not a Converse sneaker or a ballet flat with no support. You want a shoe that can cushion and absorb the forces coming out of the ground. Lots of companies now are making nice dress shoes that have arch support in the feet.”

Whether you’re delivering a lecture or ringing up groceries, you should also keep a small footrest near you, where you can put one foot up to unweight one side of the body, then switch.

Do a lot of lifting on the job? Read on for more back protection tips.

Back Protection at Home

While working outside the home or inside the home, or both, many people spend a lot of their time bending and lifting -- whether they’re grabbing a file, mopping a floor, or unloading a warehouse truck. A little-known fact: You can hurt yourself just as much while lifting something small as you can while hoisting a huge, heavy box. “I’ll see people who’ve bent over to pick up a coin and they’ve thrown their back out,” says Nessler.

Use the right form and technique to bend, lift, and reach. “When I check in at the doctor’s office, I’ll see a receptionist rummaging in a file cabinet below her, bending down at the waist with her hips straight,” says Polivka. “It makes me cringe!”

There are three key “lift postures” that many physical therapists recommend:

  • The squat lift. This is for heavy objects. Get your body as close to the object as possible, plant your feet shoulder width apart, squat down, wrap your arms around it, and stand up, using the power of your legs. “Whether it’s a baby or a heavy box, keeping the item as close to your trunk as you can allows your trunk to act as the stabilizer,” says Nessler.
  • The “golfer’s lift.” This is for small objects like that dropped coin. It would be silly to do a full power squat lift for a coin or a pen. Instead, put all your weight on one leg, and using the opposite hand, brace yourself with one hand on a desk, chair, or other sturdy object. Then bend straight from the hip, letting the non-weight-bearing leg come off the ground a little behind you as you pick up the object.
  • The “crane lift.” This is for heavier objects when you can’t use a squat lift -- like groceries in a car trunk or a baby in a crib. Stand with your knees shoulder width apart, as close to the object as you can get. Bend at the hips, sticking your buttocks out behind you. Grab the item and lift, pulling it as close to your body as you can as you lift up. Put it down the same way.

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