Low back injuries are among the most common of industrial injuries. I have experience not only as doctor, but, unfortunately, also from the other side of the operating table as a patient – twice in fact!
Let’s talk anatomy and demystify these injuries. I’m kind of a nuts and bolts guy, so don’t let the term anatomy put you off.
The spine essentially sits on the pelvis. A vertical spine is sitting on a horizontal pelvis, like an upside down T.
The L5-S1 disc is the cushion the spine sits on. Put stress on the spine and where does it break? Where the spine joins the pelvis. That is the weak spot. See, anatomy made easy.
The forces most damaging to the spine are uneven or imbalanced forces. Think of balancing a brick on a champagne flute. If the brick is not exactly balanced on the glass, the brick will fall, and the glass will break. That explains why weight always needs to be kept close to the body, and balanced or centered.
Another force on the spine is due to the power of levers. You know this from daily life: the longer the lever, the more the force – you grab a really long wrench for a really stuck bolt. The distance the weight is held from your spine is the length of the handle of the lever. If you don’t want to “break-loose” your spine, keep the lever short, the weight close.
Now that we have a simple mental picture of the spine, some other things make more sense.
How do we lift to protect the back? Keep your back straight when lifting (don’t tilt the vertical). Keep the weight centered and close. We offer a step-by-step guide on the U.S. HealthWorks website on how to lift safely.
Can we protect the low back by wrapping it up (i.e. wearing a back brace)? No. You can wrap as much elastic around this junction (remember the inverted T), and it still will be the weak spot. Back braces don’t prevent injuries.
We make the spine stronger by doing back exercises or “core” exercises. One proven set of exercises is the Williams Flexion Exercises. Pilates is another popular option.
This idea works if you have a strong back or a weak one, whether you are 20 or 80. You can always get stronger.
– Dr. Don Bucklin, National MRO – a.k.a. “Dr. B”