Don't overdo it on moving day!

A friend recently told me that he cried for nearly half the car ride home after helping his daughter move in to her college dorm room for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid the emotional pain of such a momentous occasion, but it doesn’t have to be physically painful as well. Jeffrey Neal, a physical therapist in Rehabilitation Services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), has some sound advice for preventing the injuries that can occur when friends and family chip in to help lug heavy items on moving day:

Start with proper preparation.

  • Pack boxes over time to avoid sore muscles.
  • Disperse heavy items in the bottom of a box, with lighter items on top, to maintain even weight distribution. The heavier the items, the smaller the box should be.
  • Place boxes on an elevated surface while packing to avoid repeatedly bending over.
  • Secure boxes with tape to prevent spilling.
  • Wear lightweight, comfortable clothes and supportive and sturdy shoes (e.g., not sandals).
  • Stretch your muscles and warm up with a light activity as you would before any exercise.

Improper lifting techniques can cause a variety of injuries, including neck and back muscle strain, ligament sprains, herniated discs, and even compression fractures of the spine. To prevent potentially serious and lasting injuries, follow these techniques:

  • Know your limits. Lift a corner to test items first, and ask for help with heavy or bulky loads.
  • Establish a firm grip and a wide stance before lifting. Hold the heaviest portion of the load closest to the navel, your center of gravity.
  • When lifting objects, always bend at the knees, keeping your back straight and your abdominal muscles firm. Reverse the motion, avoiding an arched back, to lower objects.
  • Keep elbows close to your sides when lifting.
  • When lifting items from inside a vehicle, place one foot in the vehicle to increase your mechanical advantage.
  • Never hold your breath when lifting a load, as this may cause elevated blood pressure levels.
  • Know where you plan to place an object before lifting and carrying it. Keep paths clear and move slowly while maintaining a clear line of vision.
  • If another person is sharing the load, communicate to lift and lower in unison.
  • Avoid twisting, which compounds stress in your back and affects balance. If you must turn, move your feet to change direction and pivot with your whole body.
  • Push, rather than pull, to maximize use of your full body weight.
  • Rest heavy or awkward items on waist-level surfaces midway through carrying.
  • Avoid reaching overhead with objects.
  • Consider using devices such as handcarts, back supports, and stepladders to ease strain.
  • Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Certain individuals should think twice before lifting heavy objects, including people who:

  • Have a history of neck or back injuries.
  • Currently experience neck or back pain.
  • Have poor cardiovascular endurance and do not exercise regularly.
  • Have respiratory and cardiac conditions.
  • Are at risk for obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, or bone density disorders.
  • Are pregnant or think they may be pregnant.

Following these tips will help you avoid a trip to the doctor for treatment or to the drugstore for pain medications – and help you save money for a nice box of tissues.

Stay tuned to HealthHub for more back-to-school advice next week, and visit the Seasonal Health Tips section of the BWH website for helpful advice throughout the year.

– Jeffrey N, Chris P

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