Musculoskeletal Health: Safe Lifting

Safe Lifting

Safe lifting and carrying can help prevent injury to your neck, back, shoulders, as well as other parts of your body. If you already have pain in any of these areas, lifting safely can help prevent further pain and injury.

General  Recommendations

Lift Safely

The following recommendations apply to all lifting situations.

  • Keep items close to the front of your body, at about waist height.

  • Make sure you remember to breathe while lifting - don’t hold your breath.

  • Tighten your belly muscles before you begin lifting.

  • Keep your spine straight, neither twist to the side nor bend forward or back.

  • Use the large muscles of your thighs and bend your knees when lifting.

  • Try to use a smooth motion and stay in a balanced position.

  • Make sure you remember to breathe while lifting - don’t hold your breath.

Think Ahead

Some steps you can take before lifting or carrying include the following:

Stretch Before Lifting

To help prevent injuries, do some warm-up stretches, especially of the muscles used for lifting. For example, stretch the hamstring (calf) and quadriceps (thigh) muscles of the legs.

  • Hamstring stretch

    • Stand with one foot on the floor and the other on a chair in front of you. Relax your foot to avoid feeling a stretch in your calf. 

    • Lean forward from your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh of your raised leg. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides and repeat.

  • Quadriceps stretch

    • Stand with your knees and feet together.

    • Grasp your foot, bending your knee with your foot towards your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides and repeat.

Ask For Help or Lessen The Load

The amount of weight that is safe for a person to lift varies from one person to another. The advice from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is under 50 pounds, however, that may be far too heavy for many individuals.

  • Make sure you know the approximate weight of items you’re planning on lifting.

  • Ask someone to help you lift a heavy object so you can divide the weight between you.

  • If possible, divide one large load into several smaller ones. For example, break up a case of paper into individual reams.

Carry It/Put It Down

Once you lift something that’s heavy, you should continue protecting your body by safely carrying it. 

  • If you need to rest, set the item down for a few minutes, then continue.

  • Don’t twist your back, instead pivot, or turn your feet if you need to change directions.

When you get to your destination, carefully put down the item.

  • Bend your knees and squat down.

  • Keep your head up and spine straight; neither twist to the side nor bend forward or back.

  • Keep the item close to your body until you’re ready to put it down.

Pushing Versus Pulling

If you are pushing or pulling something heavy, it is safer to push than pull. Pushing allows you to use larger muscles while pulling is more likely to cause an injury.

Specific Lifting Techniques

Following the general recommendations will help to keep you safe from injury. Specific lifting techniques provide even more detail for lifting in specific situations.

Basic (Squat) Lift 

The basic lift works in most situations and follows the general guidelines above. 


  1. Squat down close to the object, with your feet shoulder-width apart, one foot forward and to the side of the object.

  2. Make sure your spine is straight. Bend your knees.

  3. Grasp the object with your arms around it. 

  4. Hold it close to your body at waist height.

  5. Slowly straighten your knees until you’re standing

Tripod Technique

If you’re lifting something from the floor (e.g. your baby from a blanket on the floor, a large bag of dog food etc), the tripod technique can help. Don’t use this technique if you have knee pain.  


  1. Squat down onto one knee near the item.

  2. Grasp it with both hands and slide it up to your thigh. Make sure you keep your spine straight.

  3. Place both of your forearms underneath it and pull it towards you; hold it close to your body.

  4. With a straight spine, lift the item by straightening your legs.

Partial Squat Lift

The partial squat lift is helpful when you’re lifting something with handles that isn’t too heavy - for example, a small suitcase or overnight bag, or a shopping bag.


  1. Stand next to the item with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Squat with your knees slightly bent to reach the item’s handle. Keep your spine straight. If you’d like, put your other arm out to the side for balance.

  3. Slowly straighten your legs

Golfer’s Lift

You can use the golfer’s lift to pick up small objects (like a golf ball). It is useful if you have knee pain. 


  1. With one hand, hold onto a table or counter. 

  2. Bend over at your hips raising one leg behind you - it will help you stay balanced. Keep your spine straight.

  3. With your other hand, grasp the object.

  4. Lower your leg while straightening your hips.

For More Information

National Institutes of Health, Office of Management. Back Health. Accessed 4-22-2021 from