Part 2: How to Make the Big Move - The Execution
By Dr. Molly Casey
The process of moving puts its hands on us all at some point in life. For some of us, it’s often. For others, it’s rare. But unless we live our entire lives in the house we grew up in, the act of changing residences is as sure as death and taxes. And if you’re not the person changing residences, there’s a good chance you’ve helped a friend.
That’s why it’s so important to know how to pack, how to lift, how to carry. It’s the way we avoid injuring ourselves -- notably our backs -- and living with the pain attached to such an event.
The only way to get out of this process unscathed is to do it wisely. In Part 1, we noted that the keys to not overloading your body and hurting yourself were preparation, game planning, packing in stages while assessing intensity levels, and presence while packing. Today we look at specific guidelines and techniques to help in the physical process to decrease the wear on your body.
Your body has limits to what it can handle comfortably. Exceeding these limits risks structural damage or pain. Lugging around boxes and furniture is no different than lifting weights in the gym, running a race, or skiing on the weekend. So establishing limitations in the moving process will help protect your body from damage and pain in the aftermath.
Limit the weight in the boxes - Your own level of fitness, strength, and what your body is used to, will determine how much you should put in a packing box. However, a good rule of thumb is to never exceed 50 pounds. Put heavier items at the bottom of the box to create stability when you go to lift it. So, if you are packing books, don’t overload the box; pack some books on the bottom and perhaps pictures or light office knick-knacks on the middle and top. Think about balance here. The more balanced it is, the more stable it is. The more stable it is, the easier it is for the body to manage and control during the carrying process. Ultimately, when you limit the weight and create as much stability as possible, you are decreasing the stress on the body because it is easier to manage and control the box you’re carrying.
Limits in placement - Place boxes strategically based on weight. Although you may not have a choice while initially packing to determine where things are located with regard to their weight, you can control the location and placement during the loading process. Heavier boxes placed at hip height while waiting to be placed on the truck, or while awaiting to be unpacked, decreases the amount of bending and lifting throughout the moving process as a whole. Place lighter boxes below hip height. This may sound trivial, but it's not: The stress of the weight and repetition of movements is what largely contributes to injury.
Limit your work duration - Even while packing in stages, say room by room, it is important to limit the time spent packing. For example, it may take five hours to pack up your garage (one stage of the process); it may need to be broken up into three parts so your body is not overly stressed for five consecutive hours that results in injury or pain. The amount of time you spend in each packing segment is largely going to depend upon your health and fitness level, as well as any injuries or aches and pains (to the knees or low back, for example). Let’s say you choose segments of 60-90 minutes; if you’re in one position for a long time, such as sitting, take 60-90 seconds every 15 minutes to change positions, walk around, and loosen up.
Pay attention to your body mechanics and notice how you are moving and lifting. Even though this piece comes last, a healthy, safe, and wise moving experience cannot be successful without proper ergonomics as part of a much bigger process.
Hold the box close to your body - When it comes to leverage and negotiating corners, stairs, and the stray toy in the walking path, you’ll want to make sure your balance is on point. Central to maintaining a center of gravity that will allow you to move freely and effectively is holding the box close to your body at hip level. It gives you the most control and balance should something happen, like misjudging the last stair.
Square off - The most stressful position for the discs of the spine is half-bent and twisted. For that reason, always face directly whatever you are packing, whether it’s an end table in the corner, a shelf on the wall, or a couch that’s going to take three or four people to lift. Think of how many times you’ve heard someone say, “I just bent down and grabbed a piece of paper and now I can’t move, my back is killing me.” While there are many factors that contribute to injury, the main one is not the heaviness of the weight being lifted, but the way in which the spine is loaded while carrying out the lifting and moving process. Remember to square off when you pick up something, when you put it in a box, when you lift, and when you set it down in its place.
Lift with the legs - Bend your knees and keep your back straight. After you are squared off to an object or area of the room you are working in, bend your knees and keep your back straight while you position yourself to grab the object; then, lift with the legs. Do not have your knees straight with a rounded back so that you are forced to lift with the upper body; this is a recipe for disaster. When lifting the object, push into your heels through your thighs and straighten the knees. Think of pushing the floor away from you through your feet. The legs take the brunt of the weight (as they should) and the back is protected to the degree that it can be. This is lifting with your legs. When done correctly, you’ll be able to lift more weight and do so safely.
Moving wisely, successfully, and safely with regards to the body takes time and effort as part of preparation, as well as time and effort in physical execution. The truth is that your body is going to be stressed during a move. But when you put the proper time and energy into preparation and execution, it does not need to be as hellish as many people experience. If you have the resources, hire out as much as possible to professional movers. If you can’t, don’t worry, just follow these guidelines to help you get through as unscathed as possible.
Make sure to see your chiropractor before and after the move to allow your body the best chance to deal with the increased stress and activity. Back injuries are nothing to play around with, so give yourself the best opportunity to protect it by using your head as well as your legs.
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