Why can’t I lift heavy weight without pain?

There are times when you need to be able to lift heavier weights. As physical therapists, we want you to be able to do this pain-free, which is usually do-able with the correct set-up. Some examples of chores that require lifting heavy weight include yard clean up, removing snow, lifting heavy groceries or transporting laundry. Additionally, many adventures like travelling or backpacking require heavy lifting. All of these activities require that you are able to lift twenty pounds or more without pain. If you’re unable to do this, please read on.

What causes pain while lifting heavy weight?

Obviously there are too many body parts to list that can experience pain with lifting. But, in general, pain occurs during heavy lifting when any joint involved with the lifting is not in their proper neutral alignment while also being stabilized by the muscles that surround those joints.

Photo 56523370 / Body © Cornelius20 | Dreamstime.com

The spine is especially vulnerable to lifting injuries because it has the ability to move segmentally in so many directions. The important thing to focus on is maintaining a neutral spine. There are natural curves to a healthy spine. So while lifting heavy weight, you can think of a ‘flat back’, but really, your spine should maintain the natural curves like in the picture above.

Proper body mechanics with lifting

correct body mechanics while lifting heavy weight

When lifting, use proper body mechanics by following these tips:

  1. Face the heavy load straight on rather than from the side or a twisted position
  2. Bend at the hips, knees and ankles to squat while maintaining a neutral spine
  3. As you begin to lift, keep the navel toward the spine without holding your breath (the belly should not stick out as you lift)
  4. Lift with your legs rather than your back
  5. If the weight is too heavy or awkward, get help from someone else, or from lifting equipment if you can’t follow the steps above

Household tasks

Laundry and moving are tasks that require that you lift heavy weight

There are many household tasks that require us to lift heavier weights. But, what do you do if you’re not strong enough to lift those loads using good form? In the case of laundry or groceries, decrease the weight to a size that you can lift correctly. But with fixed items such as furniture or appliances, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Physical therapist’s see many injuries that happened when a patient tried to lift something that one person should never try to lift!

Backpacking and travelling

We’re all about adventure and heading into the great outdoors for a much needed reset. Suitcases, backpacks, tents and all of the gear that goes along with an adventure, add special challenges. When getting heavy gear out of the trunk of a car, slide the load as close to the edge as possible before lifting.

When picking up that heavy backpack to put on your back, take a phased approach. First lift it with good lifting technique to a higher surface like a boulder or picnic table. Then squat down to put the backpack on your back. Whatever you do, don’t stoop forward, pick it up and twist it around onto your back. Otherwise you’ll end up in the physical therapy clinic on Monday morning!

And for those heavier items like car camping tents, ask for help if you can’t lift the heavier weights without maintaining a neutral spine.

When do you need more help?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there are other factors that are causing your pain, that even proper form won’t fix. If you’ve implemented all of the tips above and it still hurts to lift more than twenty pounds, get in for a physical therapy examination and we’ll get you back to thriving in your life.

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