Hesperian Health Guides

Lifting and Carrying Heavy Loads

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 26: Work > Lifting and Carrying Heavy Loads

Health problems

a woman carrying a tub of water on her head, a basket in her hand, and a baby on her back Women everywhere suffer from back and neck problems, usually from heavy lifting during their daily work. Carrying water, wood, and older children for long distances can cause serious strain.

Young girls who carry many heavy loads—especially water—have problems with the back and spine (backbone). Their pelvic bones also develop poorly, which can lead to dangerous pregnancies later on.

Carrying heavy loads can cause young women to suffer more miscarriages, and can make older women and those who have recently given birth more likely to have fallen womb (prolapse).


How to lift safely:

It is easier to prevent back problems than to cure them. Whenever possible, let your legs do the work—not your back.

  • Use leg muscles—not back muscles—when lifting. When you lift objects or children from the ground, kneel or squat to pick them up rather than bending over.
a woman on one knee lifting a small child the woman standing and holding the child
  • Keep your back, shoulders, and neck as straight as possible.
  • Do not lift or carry heavy objects during pregnancy or right after childbirth.
  • Get someone to help you lift heavy objects. It may seem quicker to lift something by yourself. But later on you may lose time because of a back injury.

How to carry safely:

a woman walking with a bundle of firewood strapped to her back
  • Carry objects close to your body.
  • If possible, carry objects on your back rather than on the side of your body. This way the muscles on one side of your back do not need to do all the work. Carrying loads on your side also makes your spine twist too much. This can cause back strain.
  • If you must carry objects on one side, try to switch sides often. This way the muscles on both sides of your back are working the same amount, and your spine twists both ways. Or split the load and carry it on both sides.
  • Try to avoid using head straps. They can strain your neck muscles.
If you already have back problems:
WWHND10 Ch26 Page 399-2.png
  • Sleep on your back with a rolled cloth or pillow under your knees. Or sleep on your side with some rolled cloth behind your back and another between your knees to keep your body straight and support the spine.
  • Do the exercises below every day to strengthen the muscles in your back and lower belly. Stop if any of these exercises cause pain.
  • Try to keep your back as straight as possible during the day. Do not slump forward.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019