Why lifting with a straight back can be harmful!

Low back discomfort and pain is up there with one of the most common conditions we see in the clinic. Because of how prevalent low back pain is, two of our osteopaths, Dan and Lachy, have spent the last 2.5 years developing the “The Low Back Pain Improvement Plan”. I will be leaning on them for all their nuggets of wisdom, to bring you some awesome content regarding low backs.

I am sure a lot of you out there have heard people say “that if you lift incorrectly, you will get a sore back”. But what exactly is the right way to lift? I chatted to Dan about this thing exactly and he educated me on why that is not necessarily true. Here is what Dan had to say on the topic:

Lifting with a straight back is what everyone has been taught over the years, whether from an OHS representative or your old man yelling at you while moving the new couch into the living room. Somewhere over the years this has become the undisputed ‘safest’ way to move heavy objects, but more and more evidence is suggesting that this isn’t necessarily the case.

Click on the image below, to view a video of Dan demonstrating lifting techniques.

So where did this all begin? The ‘straight back’ advice seems to date back to the 1960’s where experiments were conducted by Dr. Alf Nachemson, a Swedish MD and back pain researcher, on spinal discs under mechanical pressure, and the findings from the study were misinterpreted. The experiment was conducted by measuring the internal pressure of a spinal disc while it was being compressed by a vice. Pressure was (of course) found to be higher within the disc while it was being squeezed by the vice. It was initially assumed from the findings of the study that lumbar flexion (bending forward) under increased load (ie. when carrying a heavy object) leads to greater pain from compression of the spinal discs. More recent understanding of the study actually suggests that the compression of the spinal disc is actually just a very normal loading response to weight, and is not likely to be a cause of increased pain.

What can we take from this misinterpretation? Does this mean that lifting with a rounded back is safer? Maybe, but we can’t say for sure. In fact, more recent studies on the subject matter actually suggest that there is not a great difference between any lifting technique, and that this probably isn’t a main determinant of whether we will hurt our back or not.

Back pain when lifting heavy objects, in actual fact, is much more likely to be a result of other factors, including:

-Trying to lift things well beyond our capacity

-Repetitive lifting when we are fatigued/tired

-Rushing a lift.

-Individual characteristics including stress (physical and mental), lack of sleep, being overweight and nutrition.

So, instead of being hell bent on keeping your spine completely straight while lifting, here are some tips that are more likely to have an impact:

-Lift in a position that you feel comfortable and supported in.

-Stay within your lifting capacity (lift smarter!).

-Take regular breaks if lifting repetitively. 

Unfortunately, there is no fail safe to lifting heavy objects, and injury can still occur from time to time. One thing is for sure, bed rest is not recommended. What is recommended is specific core exercises to get you back on track.

Remember, it is important to get assessed by a qualified health practitioner in order to determine the extent of an injury. As always, reach out to us at the clinic if you have any questions at all and you can always book an appointment online or on 9773 8085. 

Until then, 


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This blog post is an educational tool only.  It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.

Phone: (03) 9773 8085

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