Lifting with a Flexed Spine

There is a common belief throughout society that when lifting from the floor, a neutral or straight spine should be maintained. This view has been constructed under the belief that the spine – particularly the vertebral discs – are a series of fragile structures that are highly susceptible to injury when loaded. However, this narrative has been comprehensively disapproved with high-quality scientific research showing that deviating away from a neutral spine (i.e. bending the back) when lifting does not increase the risk of developing low back pain. This topic has been explored in more detail here.

One area that, up until recently, had not been scientifically explored is the influence that lumbar postural positions have on trunk muscle requirement, strength and neuromuscular efficiency during maximal lifting.

Mawston et al (2021) demonstrated within a recent study that lifting with a flexed spine significantly increased lumbar extensor moment and enhanced neuromuscular efficiency, ultimately outlining improved overall strength and efficiency when lifting. Coupled with the aforementioned research around lifting with a flexed spine not increasing injury risk, this research should provide confidence that we do not need to lift with a straight back – in fact, lifting with a flexed spine could be considered safe and potentially more optimal.  

Furthermore, it was outlined that lifting with a lordotic posture (i.e. straight back) resulted in reduced neuromuscular efficiency. This, therefore, calls into question the traditional narrative that underpins many manual handling courses and advice that we should endeavour to maintain a lordotic lumbar spine when lifting heavy loads.

Reference:

Mawson, G, Holder, L, O’Sullivan, P, Boocock, M. (2021). Flexed lumbar spine postures are associated with greater strength and efficiency than lordotic postures during a maximal lift in pain-free individuals. Gait & Posture.

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