Crowbars and Chiropractic

[originally published in KCN, September 2010 / cartoon provided by TomLamarCartoon.com]

“Crowbars and chiropractic.”  Two words that have sort of an odd relationship at first glance.  But as a chiropractor, I contend it is because of crowbars, new clientele seek me out.  Let me explain.

Most of us can recite the “safe lifting” mantra by heart:  “Bend at the knees and lift with your legs — not your back.”  Sometimes, though, lost in this rote recitation is the valuable nugget:  “Keep the load close to your body.”  Why is this so important?

Simple…. leverage.  Because, you see, the farther the load is from your body’s center of gravity, the greater the leverage is on the vertebrae in the lower back — and that amount can be considerably greater.  In other words, that light five pound box isn’t so light to the structural components of your lumbar spine when you are holding it two feet out in front of yourself.  Suddenly the base of your spine is contending with 120 inch-pounds force of torque!

And then it happens.  (And this is what puts food on my table).  You are holding a load out in front of yourself and you twist at the waist.  Suddenly you are met with a jolt of disabling and searing pain — a pain that confirms that you have done something seriously wrong.

Because, in essence, you have.  What you have done is the virtual equivalent of shoving a crowbar into the base of your lumbar spine and reefing on the free end.  This action literally “over-leverages” the vertebral segments out of alignment causing — in an emergency reflex-like action — the surrounding muscles to clamp down in a protective and pain-producing spasm.

Most patients that end up in my office are simply a case of “physics gone bad.”

So what to do?

Well, aside from staying away from “crowbar activities,” remember to first keep all loads that you are lifting as close to your body as possible.  This will at least shorten the length of the “crowbar” you are working with.

Second, do not twist at the waist when you are handling a load.  Instead, it is far safer to pivot your entire body as a unit.  The anatomy of the lower back is simply not designed to effectively twist, no matter how you look at it.  This would also apply — and perhaps more so — to activities involving tools with long handles, such as rakes and shovels.

Third, understand that not all twisting movements with weight will lead to an immediate crippling, “crowbar event” — but the spine does have an uncanny way of keeping score.  There is incredible truth in the old adage “The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back!” So, if you find yourself twisting at the waist, find ways to balance or unwind that torque-laden stress by twisting in the opposite direction.  A good example of this would be periodically switching your grip on a shovel and shoveling from the opposite side.

Finally, remember that chiropractors are experts at the mechanical workings of the spine.  If you are in a situation in which a “crowbar” has gotten the upper hand, a chiropractor is the professional of choice.  He possess the skill set to assist you in bringing about balance and restoration to your spine in an effective and timely manner — offering a mechanical solution to what is clearly a mechanical problem.  Ironically as one who is schooled in vertebral biomechanics, he too will use leverage on your spine, but this time it will be to your advantage — using a “crowbar” to allow physics to work for your good.

______________
Source used for this article:
Biomechanics of safe lifting.  Cornell University Ergonomics Web.  http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/DEA3250notes/lifting.html (viewed on 08/15/10).
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