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Is there a rational basis for post-surgical lifting restrictions? 1. Current understanding


Lifting restrictions postoperatively are quite common, but there appears to be little scientific basis for them. Lifting restrictions are inhibitory in terms of return to work and may be a factor in chronicity. The mean functional spinal motion unit stiffness changes with in vitro or computer-simulated discectomies, facetectomies and laminectomies were reviewed from the literature. We modified the NIOSH lifting equation to include another multiplier related to stiffness change post surgery. The new recommended lifts were computed for different lifting conditions seen in industry. The reduction of rotational stiffness ranged from 21% to 41% for a discectomy, 1% to 59% for a facetectomy and 4% to 16% for a partial laminectomy. The recommended lifts based on our modified equation were adjusted accordingly. There is no rational basis for current lifting restrictions. The risk to the spine is a function of many other variables as well as weight (i.e., distance of weight from body). The adjusted NIOSH guidelines provide a reasonable way to estimate weight restrictions and accommodations such as lifting aids. Such restrictions should be as liberal as possible so as to facilitate, not prevent, return to work. Patients need more advice regarding lifting activities and clinicians should be more knowledgeable about the working conditions and constraints of a given workplace to effectively match the solution to the patient’s condition.

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Received: 31 July 1998 Revised: 21 January 1999 Accepted: 11 February 1999

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Magnusson, M., Pope, M., Wilder, D. et al. Is there a rational basis for post-surgical lifting restrictions? 1. Current understanding. E Spine J 8, 170–178 (1999).

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  • Key words Lifting
  • Surgery
  • Return to work
  • Low back pain