Understanding your Spine Part 2 — Twisting and Turning
Tips for Lifting and Carrying Properly
In my last blog post, Tips for Lifting and Carrying Objects Properly, Part 1, I looked at how our understanding of how our bodies work will help us to gain better respect for our bodies and the forces involved in moving them. Today, I’m going to be talking about turning and twisting under compression, i.e. while lifting objects – specifically, why this is a bad idea, and how you can avoid it.
You have seen how bending when lifting can be harmful to our bodies, but what if we added twisting to the process? Perhaps you are in the middle of lifting something, and you decide to turn your upper body to talk to someone or look at something. The technical term for this type of movement is torsion.
If you’re lifting incorrectly, you know that the intervertebral disc is squeezed. When you twist your body during a lift, the walls of the disc becomes elongated and stretched, making them more susceptible to damage. Over time, this can wear down the rim of the disc, so it cannot maintain the discal tissues inside its structure – and you would suffer a rupture. This means discomfort, pain, and can mean even loss of motor function.
Here is a schematic view why the fibres of the rim actually do get longer.
In reality this sketch does not hold true. Even though the fibres do get stretched and elongated they are on top of that exposed to the stress of discal tissue suffering a compression by the weight from above (that includes the torso above this segment plus the weight of the object being carried) so that the rim is suffering even more pressure from the inside out, getting even tighter, which further endangers the rim and makes it more susceptible to rupture:
To avoid this, we want to eliminate torsion from the upper body when carrying heavy objects. You don’t want to stretch the lining of the outer face of the disk. Instead, you should be aiming to support the retention power of the disc tissue. This substance acts like a rubber membrane inside the disc. By using movement that is in line with the existing structures of our body, we direct the maximum force possible toward the job at hand – so we are able to lift more easily. The strain placed on joints and tissues is minimised, and the body is able to regenerate after wear and tear.
If we take care of the system i.e. our bodies
our system will take care of us!
MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO
In 1910, F. M. Alexander (1869-1955) wrote: “In the mind of man lies the secret of his ability to resist, to conquer and finally to govern the circumstance of his life, and only by the discovery of that secret will he ever be able to realise completely the perfect condition of mens sana in corpore sano.“ [i]
Alexander understood in 1910 what many of us are just learning now. We all know that life sometimes just happens. I am not advocating that you must be over-cautious and never do anything, never risk anything, for the sake of your body. But by using good technique, you can eliminate the potential for long-term damage and help ensure when something does go wrong, it’s not as bad as it otherwise could be.
Life cannot and should not be avoided. Sometimes – either through necessity or stubbornness – you lift something that is actually too heavy for you.
Did you know that if you were to get out of a chair badly enough, your musculoskeletal system will be subjected to half a ton (i.e. = 500 kg) of pressure through you spine? Obviously, this isn’t a good thing. And if you do that every time you get out of a chair, over time you will weaken the tissues and structure of the spine.
G.B. Shaw wrote in Man and Superman: “ I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”[ii]
You have the power to influence when you are used up. We can help control how brightly our “torch” burns. It is a matter of choice – the choice is ours.
Below, I’ve laid out some guidelines to assist with healthy movement while lifting.
How to Prevent Stress During Lifting
Lift with a Straight Back
But — and this is a bit “but” – don’t impose an unnatural posture on yourself. When lifting with a straight back you instead utilize other joints such as your hips, knees and ankles.
Carry Weight Close to Your Body
This improves your body’s leverage, making carrying easier and eliminating many of the challenges on your body tissues.
Take a Break
If you are lifting heavy objects for extended periods of time and are feeling uncomfortable, it is time to stop – RIGHT NOW – and take a break.
If you are feeling discomfort, you need to learn how to better understand in an anatomical sense how your body moves, so that you can respect the forces involved within your own body. The more you understand, the better equipped you are to direct those forces in a productive and constructive way and make more informed choices.