The most important things firefighters must do while lifting to avoid a back injury – #2

Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking about lifting – the one task that results in the greatest number of firefighters injuring their backs. If you missed it, check out the #1 most important thing you need to be doing while lifting, and the first of the 3 most important things you should avoid at all costs while lifting.

#2 is twisting

This firefighter is demonstrating the wrong way to pick something up. He should turn and face the box before lifting it. Then hold it close to his chest to carry it.

Here’s the deal: The joints in the back, especially the low back, are not set up to withstand a lot of twisting. In fact, our lumbar vertebrae only naturally rotate about 5 degrees! So any time you’re contracting your back muscles, as in a lift, if you’re also twisting you’re wreaking havoc on your back.

While you should always avoid excessive twisting of the spine (even when exercising and stretching) twisting while lifting places such high forces on the spine it is known to be a high risk activity when it comes to back injuries.

The key to avoiding a twist is to center yourself directly in front of the object or person you are lifting and then, as you move the object, move with it. This might take a little more concentration as you do things that you don’t expect to be hurtful, like grabbing a toolbox off a shelf (see

picture), but ignoring this advice can cause injury in an instant OR it could incur low grade damage that over time will eventually result in injury.

You should also take care to avoid excessive twisting in your workout. Yarding your torso around in an effort to “work your obliques” is not productive and downright harmful. It only takes a tiny bit of rotation to recruit the obliques, and you can work them without any rotation by doing a side plank. The same goes for stretching. Don’t bring a knee so far across your body that your back is forcefully twisted. A little will do. Again, your low back doesn’t want to withstand rotation greater than 5 degrees.

What is your experience with back injuries and twisting or reaching? Are you surprised to learn this? Let us know in the comments.

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By | 2018-05-17T16:04:05+00:00 April 5th, 2016|Uncategorized|2 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.


  1. John Celestino PT, GCS, MTC, CSCS, OCS, FF/EMT April 7, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Twisting is indeed deleterious to the spine…but not just with lifting. The tissues that make up the discs between are vertebrae dry out and lose their elasticity ad we age, especially after the 4th or 5th decade of life… So keep hydrated and whether lifting or not, keep what you are doing in front of you. Respectfully submitted, John Celestino PT, GCS, MTC, CSCS, OCS, FF/EMT, spine specialist, NASS member in private practice.

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