a family with their conversion van

Because my husband’s legs are paralyzed I lift him many times a day. I lift his legs, help him swing to the side, move to the edge of the bed, and use a transfer board. When he takes a nap and goes to bed, I lift his legs again. As the day progresses my back usually hurts more. Though I was keeping my husband safe, apparently I wasn’t being safe with myself.

My husband is a retired physician and advised me to “lift with your legs.” I try to do this, but am not always successful. Once my back starts to hurt it hurts for days. How could I improve my lifting skills?

I searched the Internet for information about safe lifting. Orthopedic Surgeon Jonathan Cluett, MD, offers some tips in his article, “How to Lift,” posted on the About.com website. His suggestions may apply more to your caregiving situation. Before you start to lift anything, you should have a plan, according to Dr. Clauett. Your plan will help you avoid awkward movements.

My husband uses an electric wheelchair and our plan had to include enough space for him to turn his wheelchair around. He needs turn around space on both sides of his hospital bed and it took several attempts to get the bed in the right position. When he moves from the transfer board to his wheelchair, we always turn the wheelchair off to avoid an accident. We don’t want to catch a sleeve on the chair controls or suddenly have it lurch forward. We also coordinate our efforts by counting “one, two, three” and moving on the number three.

Cluett says you should get some help if you feel like you are straining to lift. Paid caregivers come to help us four times a day. The caregivers lift my husband often and, when they are absent, I do it alone. Another of Cluett’s tips, which may surprise you, is to keep eyes up. “Looking slightly upwards will help you maintain a better position of the spine,” he explains.

Laura Inverarity, DO, offers more tips in her article, “Safe Lifting Technique: Eight Safety Tips When Lifting Heavy Objects,” posted on the Physical Therapy website. She tells the person who is lifting to stand close to the load. But if your loved one is bedridden, you can only stand so close, and probably have to lean over. Drs. Cluett and Inverarity ask the lifter to tighten their stomach muscles. I tried this and was surprised at how well it worked.

As you are lifting your loved one, keep your back straight and bend your knees. I remind myself to do this every time I lift my husband. As he advised, try to lift with your legs. If you do this correctly you will feel your leg muscles in action. Inverarity thinks it’s important not to twist your body while you are lifting. Keep in mind, however, that her article pertains to lifting objects. She goes on to say you should take small steps and keep turning your feet until you are in a correct position.

Like paid caregivers, you may wish to wear a belt or back support. According to Cluett, a protective belt and back support can help you “maintain a better lifting posture.”

I’ve been my husband’s family caregiver for six months now, and am slowly getting better at lifting. My progress has been slow because I have arthritic hips. You may have some health issues as well and your caregiving experience may be similar to mine. When it comes to safe lifting, we have two goals – protecting a loved one and ourselves. We want to be able to lift our loved one today, tomorrow, and all the caregiving days to come.

Want to learn more? Phys Ed demonstrates proper lifting for caregivers and other back strengthening exercises. If you aren’t able to lift your loved one safely, there are tools to help.


Written by Harriet Hodgson
Rochester resident Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for writing for 38 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 36 books. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. She is also a contributing writer for The Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. Harriet has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, Harriet has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. All of Harriet’s work comes from her life. She is now in her 19th year of caregiving and cares for her disabled husband, John. For more information about this busy author, grandmother, wife, and caregiver please visit www.harriethodgson.com

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1 Comment

  1. I wish someone had taught me this. Torn rotator cuffs and a few hernias later, I’ve become hobbled.

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