In this article I will talk about how lifting heavy weights affects the spine and how it can lead to injury. The muscles which play a chief role in lifting weights from the ground are spine extensors. The spine extensors are designed to bring the spine to neutral and extension from a flexed position. Because these muscles are oriented vertically, they produce axial loads. This axial load is a compressive force which if very high can injure the vertebrae, discs and joints. These forces are highest when lifting weights from the ground.
When we lift weight from the ground our spine in combination with pelvis acts like a class 1 lever. The junction of spine and pelvis forms a pivot around which the spine rotates with the help of extensor muscles. These muscles lie behind the pivot joint while the weight lies in its front. In order to lift the lift the weight the torque generated by extensor muscles should exceed the torque generated by weight at the pivot. The torque that can be generated by spine extensor has a top limit because of their natural properties and their fixed attachments. The torque generated by the object on ground is the product of the weight of the object and its distance from the pivot. When these values are in physiological limits the weight can lifted without harm. But in cases where excess amounts of forces are generated there are two possibilities:
- The person realises his mistake and avoids the effort
- The person continues to lift the weight and injures his spine
In an average healthy person, spine muscles and ligaments are the weakest structures. Under these conditions they fail to lift the weight and instead of contracting, they get lengthened which then manifests as pain and soreness in the back over next 24-48 hours and which can stay up to a week or even more depending on the severity of the injury.
In other cases where spine is weak and chronically ill, vertebrae or the disc may fail earlier which is a very painful condition.
So how can you prevent it?
- Avoid lifting very heavy weights, if necessary use other person’s help or use some tools/ machines
- When lifting heavy weights, stand close to them and bend your knees to lift it.
- Do training exercises: specific exercises can reduce the chances of injury, however they cannot be completely prevent it.
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Dr Nikhil Jain
FNB Spine Surgery, MS Orthopaedics
Consultant Spine Surgeon