You’re good to be concerned, as cats can feel pain when picked up the wrong way. Some very docile cats may tolerate the pain, but the last thing you and other thoughtful owners want to do is to hurt the cat.
One myth is that it’s OK to pick up a cat by the scruff of its neck. Mother cats do that safely with their kittens, but it requires a special touch. Veterinarians sometimes use a similar technique. However, they are trained to lift a cat in such a manner.
The Humane Society advises that you approach the cat from either its left or right side, since most cats feel threatened when you come at them head-on. Place one hand under the “armpits” of the front legs and lift. As you do so, use your other hand to scoop up the cat from underneath. This second hand should act as a firm cradle support.
If you do this properly, the lift is like giving your cat a big, safe bear hug. Cats that are used to the treatment will probably approach you in the future, hoping for the positive attention again.