Getting Boxed In

It’s hard to believe that the holiday season is right around the corner.  Seeing as Halloween decorations have become a lot more popular recently, people are already starting to hull those boxes from their closets and garages to get into the festive mood.  It seems like a good time to go over ways to save yourself from aches or pains you might get from unpacking all those boxes!  

The expression most people have heard is “lift with your legs,” but personal experience would suggest that people don’t really understand what that looks like.  Your legs have the ability to help you lift things a lot of ways, so “using your legs” to lift isn’t incredibly specific. You could rely more on your knees (squatting) or your hips (hip hinging) and either way you’d be lifting with your legs, but the movements will look completely different.  

Example of a squat

While these setups allow for the same thing (lifting an object), they stress different parts of your body.  In the squat, the knees are used much more, which is great considering that the quadriceps (the muscles on the front side of your thighs) are normally really strong.  In the hip hinge, the force shifts to the glutes (the butt muscles), which is also great because the glutes are normally really strong! This is all to say that you can move in different ways to avoid using an area that you may be experiencing pain and still get the job done.  

With both movements, the spine is shown to be relatively straight.  This is mostly to try to minimize stress to the tissues around the spine.  If you’re not used to lifting stuff heavier than the boxes you’re unloading, you should do your best to keep your spine in a neutral position (straight).  

A lot of people will look at the hip hinge and think that it’s bad for you back, but that isn’t true.  This comes back to what’s mentioned above. If your body isn’t used to moving in that way you may find that it bothers your back or hips simply because those muscles or tissues aren’t ready to help you carry a bunch of boxes.  That does not mean the movement is bad for your spine.  

There are other things that can be done to make carrying/lifting boxes easier, including:  

  • Keep the box close – When you go to pick something up, especially if it’s heavy, stand as close to it as you possibly can.  Think about carrying a gallon of milk. It’s much easier carrying it by your side than it is in front of you with your arm completely straight.  A great cue is to try to stand with your hips over the box before you go to lift.  
  • Use tools – Professional movers use lifting straps to help carry big, long, and/or heavy objects.  Boxes are often big, long, and/or heavy. If you have an extra belt or thick strap, you can use the belt to give you some extra leverage by wrapping it underneath the box linking to your body (here is a visual of a professional grade lifting strap for an example, not an endorsement of this product).  If there are several boxes that you feel that you would need to use a tool, it probably means you should just get help from another person.  Another option would be to use a cart or dolly. They’re inexpensive and they can save you a lot of time, stress, and maybe some pain.  
  • Don’t do everything at once – Decorating involves carrying stuff and unpacking stuff.  You can make it easier by doing a little bit of each instead of doing all of the carrying at one time.  Move a box or two at a time and unpack those before moving more boxes out. If it’s going to take you several hours to get the decorations up, there’s no harm in giving yourself some productive rest time by unpacking what you actually need from the boxes in the first place.  You could also do some light stretching movements every few boxes.  

The holidays always sneak up on us, but you can be prepared this year if you use some of these tips.  If you still have some time before you need to get those decorations out, it is a fantastic idea to grab a box or weight and do a couple rounds of lifting/carrying that around to prepare your body for a longer day of unpacking/unboxing.  Doing two or three rounds a week for one to three weeks can get your body ready and help you get those boxes down without a hitch! It might even be a good idea to do that year round if you’re not regularly lifting/carrying things.

If you’re having problems with lifting/carrying boxes or other objects, physical therapists and personal trainers are a great source of information to get you stronger and prepared for the holiday rush.  

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.  

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.

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