Every day we do some sort of physical activity, whether we realize it or not. From taking the stairs on rounds, helping to transfer patients or retracting for hours during surgery, all of it could be considered physical activity. With this physical activity there is potential for injury especially if you’re unprepared for it. As someone planning on going into Emergency Medicine, I appreciate the value of being prepared for anything.
This week we had a multi-passenger wreck come in with multiple ejections. As the medical student, I was responsible for helping the x-ray tech after the primary survey. This meant lifting people, while still on the backboard up a few inches to slide the x-ray plates underneath. Almost every one of the six ejected passengers were over 350 pounds. This meant my back was working over-time. While I have been trained to lift with my legs and not with my back, I still felt the strain of lifting that weight, especially 12 times in a row. I was remarkably sore for days after.
I thought about how much more damage could have been done, more than just a minor lumbosacral strain, if someone had been lifting these patients who had not been trained and wasn’t physically strong. Back injuries, especially lower back injuries, are by far one of the most common complaints I see among patients. I also hear my friends, nurses, techs and physicians complaining that their low backs are bothering them. According to research from The University of Missouri, lower back injuries affect 80% of the population at some point in their lives and it is the fifth most common reason for physician visits. This nagging and aggravating soreness can mostly be attributed to weak and underdeveloped paraspinal and gluteus medius muscles. This weakness plus helping to transfer a particularly large patient can cause serious injury, not limited to just a strain.
Deadlift exercises, when done properly help to strengthen the lower back, the paraspinal muscles, the gluteus muscles and the hamstrings. This, combined with strong abdominal muscles can help prevent herniation and serious strains caused from long hours of standing and lifting patients. Strengthening your back can help improve posture, reduce pain associated with standing and prevent serious injuries. There are numerous techniques on how to prevent injuries when lifting including limiting the load, keeping a straight back, lifting with your legs and avoiding twisting motion when lifting. While these are great technique, baseline lower back strength is also important.
So practice doing your deadlifts, with proper technique. You should start with an appropriate weight, one that is a little heavy but that you can safely lift. This can be accomplished with a barbell or dumbbell. Start with hands hip width apart, knees bent to full squat, lift with your legs keeping the bar close to your legs and body and fully extend your back. If you don’t know how to properly do a deadlift, have a trained professional teach you. Once you learn how to do them properly, deadlifts can be a powerful tool to help strengthen your lower body and protect you from injury.
Thankfully, I was prepared to lift those 350 pound trauma patients without permanently injuring my back. My hope is that you’ll take these tips into consideration and work on strengthening your back so you can avoid debilitating injuries and overuse discomfort, ultimately living a healthier and pain free life.