Questions about using a lifting belt for work
February 23, 2015 2:07 PM   Subscribe

My son works as a stocker in a large home improvement store and often lifts heavy objects. He's looking for a lifting belt to protect his back. Any clues what he should be looking for? He's a skinny kid if that's helpful.
posted by readery to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is he talking about the "belt" that two men wear that allows them to combine strength to lift and move heavy objects like refrigerators? Like these?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:48 PM on February 23, 2015

If your son is looking to protect his back, his first step should be to get strong and develop proper motor recruitment patterns for lifting heavy things. The easiest way to do this is to carefully get his barbell deadlift up to at least one and a half times his bodyweight with proper form. The book Starting Strength is a good place to, ahem, start. Since he's skinny, young, and male, he should most likely see fantastic return on his lifting investment.

Second, understand how lifting belts work. When lifting without a belt, you protect your back by bracing the torso in its neutral, naturally curved position. Bracing the torso keeps everything in place while you lift, preventing pulled muscles and other injuries. How do lifting belts belt help that process? The original idea is to use them as something sturdy to push their abs against, so they can tense their muscles harder and thereby produce greater intra-abdominal pressure. This has filtered down to today, where people try to use the belts as the source of the bracing force itself. I don't think this works too well: the belt would have to be too tight to walk around with.

Third, remember that if the belt does work, then it would necessarily reduce the amount of work he is doing with his lower back. That suggests his lower back would get weaker, and therefore more susceptible to injury, not less. This article cites a few studies that support my position (links are in the original):
While a weightlifting belt does increase intra-abdominal pressure, this effect has no bearing on the amount of force placed on the lower back muscles. Wearing a weightlifting belt dramatically increases blood pressure, which may increase the risk of stroke or heart attack for those with pre-existing conditions. ... Weightlifting belts tend to give people a false sense of security, enticing them to try to lift more than they normally would. This can increase the risk of injury.
So, understanding all that, I would recommend strength training instead of a belt, especially for a young man with (I assume) no injuries and plenty of potential to get strong.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:59 PM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Thorzdad, I think he means something like this, which are the wear-while-you-work version of belts like this.
posted by daveliepmann at 3:01 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

This isn't what you asked, but he would be better off using proper lifting mechanics (legs, not back), recognizing his limits, and asking for help when needed.

I've worked these kind of jobs in the past and the pressure to lift more than you should is great, but should be avoided.

Lifting belts really should only be used after an injury has already occurred.

Here are a couple links:

Canadian version of OSHA

posted by Broken Ankle at 3:01 PM on February 23, 2015

No, he was going to go to a sporting goods store and get a weight lifting belt as guys he works with say this is the thing to do. But a Google search tells me there are 'braces' to wear for lifting but they tend to be a bit pricey.

He's strained his back a couple of times in the year he's worked at the store. I have general concerns about safety issues and injury, but I'm a mom and may be being a worry wart. I don't think some barely over minimum wage retail job is worth physical damage.
posted by readery at 3:02 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's got proper lifting down and has been exercising. He weighs about 135 lbs at 5'9", so I think he's expecting to lift a bit more than he can handle.

My response has been to look for a new job, but I think he likes how strong he's gotten from working at this job.
posted by readery at 3:07 PM on February 23, 2015

Since you mention he's already strained his back — when I was 22, I strained my lower back at work (moving boxes of paper in the copier room) and spent the next 15 years dealing with recurrent chronic back pain that would at times rise to the back brace + cane + opiate painkillers level. It was debilitating.

Then I found a physical therapy method that actually works for me (the HMO-provided PT was useless). I've posted about it before because it was so life-changing.
Based on my experience, I'd encourage your son to pick up a copy of the book Pain Free or Health Through Motion to improve his chances of staying strong and healthy (and, with luck, avoid spending 15 years dealing with pain and feeling like he's on a downhill slide).
posted by Lexica at 6:14 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Find a way to convince him to be uncompromising in his proper lifting technique. I've worked in a fast-paced physical work environment and it's really easy to get sucked into using improper technique when your coworkers, customers, bosses etc all just want that thing done right away.

In my experience, the most helpful people are often susceptible to injury because they can end up compromising on safety in order to help others out.
posted by reeddavid at 6:29 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Try introducing him to core strength exercises, like Pilates. Weaknesses in your core muscles lead to imbalanced movement in other parts of the body. Core strengthening should be a regular part of his daily routine if he wants to avoid long term injurious movement patterns.
Also, I used to manage property and buy appliances from Best Buy. They would always deliver these hefty cubes of metal (reefers and stoves) the same way. Instead of using a dolly, they would have two guys. Both would wear a hip belt with a swivel attachment and a strap attached to the belt that goes down under the item they are lifting.
They would walk it up the stairs or wherever, deftly balancing with their hands on the appliance, the weight almost all on the strap. It worked so well it was kind of cool to watch compared to the thunk-thunk-thunk of people using dollies to move heavy appliances.
posted by diode at 6:49 PM on February 23, 2015

He's strained his back a couple of times in the year he's worked at the store. I have general concerns about safety issues and injury, but I'm a mom and may be being a worry wart. I don't think some barely over minimum wage retail job is worth physical damage.

you are totally right, says this old man with back problems from physical labor. some day he is going to know that you were right but I have no idea how to make that day come sooner...
posted by at 4:15 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's strained his back a couple of times in the year he's worked at the store.

If these are, like, "oh my god I can't stand up" or "wow, I'm not sure I can get out of bed and I'm hobbling around" then he should quit, get his deadlift up to double bodyweight, then decide if he wants to reapply for his old job.

If the strains were "man, my back is sore after that day of work" or "ow, I really tweaked that spot in my left lower back...anyway, I'm good to do everything as normal" then I recommend he continue the job and deadlift twice a week until he's at 1.5x bodyweight.

I also remembered the best ergonomic advice I've heard (after "be strong"): avoid twisting maneuvers, or turning after you lift something. If it's heavy, then pick it up, move your feet to face the new direction, and put the thing down keeping it in front of you.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:06 PM on February 24, 2015

I also work at a home improvement store now and previously worked various physical jobs such as loading UPS trucks, warehouses, etc and back brace/lifting belts are not really recommended by anyone I've worked with. They are seen as something that will likely lead to more risk of injury by relying on it. Where I am now is hugely into safety and if I were to show up in a back brace, I would not be allowed to lift a thing. Instead focus on proper lifting techniques and form.
posted by beanytacos at 2:28 PM on February 24, 2015

Oh god, do not get him a security blanket. A lifting belt isn't going to prevent injuries, it's going to give him a false sense of confidence, and he's going to completely fuck up his back.
posted by disconnect at 4:34 PM on February 24, 2015

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