Safety when lifting to assist physically challenged son

Originally Published: September 24, 2004
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Hi Alice,

My name is Sharon. My son is disabled and requires a lot of lifting. My question is how to determine for my size and weight how much weight I should be able to safely lift. Also, at what point would a belt/brace be used to supplement? I lift weights and do cardio, but since my son is getting heavier, I want to make sure that I keep my back in the best shape possible. Any suggestions of exercises and stretches and methods of lift and holding him would help, as well.

Thank you very much,
Sharon

Dear Sharon,

Many workplaces and several states have ergonomic regulations that help ensure employee safety. However, according to the Center to Protect Worker's Rights, the risk of injury is not solely determined by the weight of an object. Other factors that need to be considered are how often a person lifts something, if someone bends or twists while lifting, how high the object is lifted, how closely one holds the object to his/her body, and how long an individual holds the object.

Keeping not only your back, but also your legs, glutes, and abs, strong and flexible is essential. It isn't clear from your question exactly how, for how long, and from where to where you need to lift your son, but there are some general rules about lifting that apply to most situations. Beforehand, it is important to stretch and warm up those cold back, leg, and arm muscles to make them more flexible. The proper lifting technique begins with foot placement. Get as physically close to your son as possible and center your body over your feet, which need to be spread about shoulder width apart. Bend your knees while keeping your spine straight. Since keeping his body weight close to you will put much less stress on your back, hold your son as close to your body as possible and inhale deeply. Then exhale as you push up with your legs and lift your son. Also, to help keep your spine aligned correctly, look straight ahead while lifting. As important as proper lifting technique is to your back, what you do with your son after you have lifted him is just as important. NEVER twist your body to change directions while carrying a heavy load. Move your feet to get to where you need to go. NEVER bend at the waist to set your son back down. This puts an incredible amount of stress on your back. To lower him, bend your knees and crouch down, allowing your leg muscles to do the work.

Back support belts are used by some people in the workplace and/or around the house. The belt is thought to increase intra-abdominal pressure in order to relieve internal stress on the spine. Wearing the belt is also thought to decrease the risk of overextension when lifting. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that there is no evidence to support that wearing a back belt decreases the risk of back injury.

It's great that you have decided to work out to keep your back and body in shape. If you're interested in specific weight training, perhaps you can work with a personal trainer. S/he will be able to assess your situation and provide you with specific exercises and a regimen that targets the muscles you want to strengthen. Yoga also offers another way to increase flexibility and strengthen the back. Check your local newspaper to find yoga classes taught in your neighborhood or even a video store for an instructional VHS or DVD.

As your son gets older (and heavier), you may need to think about the possibility of using a mobility aid to assist you in lifting. It's not clear from your question what your specific needs are. Your son's health care provider may have recommendations when and if you feel they are necessary.

Alice