Tools and Techniques: Injury Prevention for the Back and Knees

By Ray Thompson, Jr.

When the weight of a person is concentrated to the knee area, there is friction between the bones at the joint.
When the weight of a person is concentrated to the knee area, there is friction between the bones at the joint. Photo courtesy of ProKnee.

Many installers suffer from sore backs and knees. The reason for this: failure to protect them from the stress of daily installations and lifting. When we are neophytes in flooring installation, one tends to have an attitude of that wouldn’t happen to me. Whether you are serious about this business long-term or it is just a temporary job, take care of your body when lifting or kneeling. As you get older, your body is going to tell you that you should have taken better care of it.

Lifting

A wise old sage once told me “You have so many lifts in your back until you have back problems.” What Can Happen if I Lift Improperly? If you consistently lift heavy items or bend forward frequently, you may be setting yourself up for back pain. When you bend forward, the forward curve in your spine, called a lordosis, straightens out or reverses. This can place excessive pressure on the inside of your spinal discs as much as 10 times the weight you are lifting, causing the disc to be pushed out of place, becoming herniated or ruptured, and leading to pain and sciatica. If you are feeling any low back pain before or after lifting, visit your doctor right away to get an accurate diagnosis and get started on treatment immediately.

Here is how to lift properly:

  • *Stand close to the load and center yourself over it with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • *Tighten your abdominal muscles. Keep your back straight, bend your knees and squat down to the floor.
  • *Get a good grasp on the load with both hands.
  • *Keeping the load close to your body use your leg muscles to stand up, lifting the load off the floor.
  • *Your back should remain straight throughout lifting, using only the muscles in the legs to lift the load.
  • *Do not twist your body when moving the load. Instead, take small steps with your feet turning until you are in the correct position.
  • *Again, bend at the knees using only your leg muscles and place the load in the appropriate spot.

The best course to take when you encounter a heavy load is to find a buddy to lift the load with you. Of course, if the load is too heavy, you need to get help or use some other form of mechanical means to lift your items.

What if you have something light to lift? Can you just bend over at your back and lift away? The answer is no. You must bend properly each time you lift, regardless of the size and weight of the object. A good way to keep your back in the optimal position while lifting is to keep your head up as you bend. This naturally keeps your low back and neck in a neutral position, so your spine remains protected when lifting even the smallest load.

Kneepads for flooring installers offer protection.
Kneepads for flooring installers offer protection. Photo courtesy of ProKnee.

Lifting heavy items can place a significant stress on your body and may lead to pain or limited motion.

What is Causing Your Back to Hurt? If you have low back pain, then you understand how the pain can make many basic tasks difficult to perform. Simple things like sitting, bending, or walking can become almost impossible and performing work and recreational activities may be limited.

Frequent Forward Bending: If you spend a lot of time performing floor-laying tasks that require forward bending, you may be placing increased pressure on your spine, and this may be a cause of your pain. Learning to bend properly at your knees will help keep pressure off your spine and help decrease back pain. Invest in a back brace or belt to take some of the stress off your back when working, especially when lifting.

Kneeling

The knee is the largest and most complex joint in the entire body. The knee joins the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). The smaller bone that runs alongside the shin bone (fibula) and the kneecap (patella) are the other bones the make up the knee joint. Tendons connect the knee bones to the leg muscles that move the knee joint. Ligaments join the knee bones to provide stability to the knee.

People who have sore backs often have sore knees and vice versa. Why? When people are tired and sore from kneeling, they often compensate by stooping over. This causes the weight of the upper body to transfer off the knees and onto the lower back area. This leads to excessive fatigue, chronic pain and injuries to the muscles and vertebra of the lower back.

When the weight of a person is concentrated to the knee area, there is friction between the bones at the joint. Sandwiched between the bones lies a thin layer of cartilage and tissue (meniscus) that acts as a cushion, which allows pain free movement of the joint. With not much natural support to hold it together, the joint continuously works on this thin layer until it starts to wear out. This may cause an assortment of knee problems including loose joints, knee burn pain, fluid build-up and tissue swelling.

One of the typical kneeling positions is sitting back on your calf muscles with the tops of your feet flattened against the floor. The drawback is that the meniscus is stretched over the tibia and it’s only a matter of time before it tears. Plus, the ligaments and muscles on the top of the foot can over stretch, causing pain and cramping that can make it difficult to walk or run after a full day’s work.

All kneepads on today’s market are beneficial to the user. It is up to you to decide your level of comfort. As your level of comfort changes, you will see them go from not using kneepads at all to something that gets that level of comfort back, thus the multitude of kneepads available. Remember, the better the kneepad the more it is going to cost and the longer you can work without knee problems. There are kneepads that support the knee and lower leg that take the pressure off the knees as well as the back. They are expensive, but well worth the investment. Don’t decide on a pair of kneepads by price alone. Make sure your kneepads fit properly and allow you to work comfortably as they will provide long-term well-being for you.

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