Springing into Yard Work – Not Back Pain
As days get longer and warmer, we start to plan our gardens and prepare for yard work. Whether you have acres to care for or just a few pots the potential for injury remains. One study estimated that 2.1 million Americans suffer gardening injuries every month during the summer. Here are some easy steps you can take to avoid injury while enjoying the great outdoors this season.
Take the time to limber up before working in the yard. Go for a walk for 5-10 minutes and do some gentle stretches for your arms, legs, and back. Gardening activities require you to bend forward nearly 100% of time – think of the pressure that places on your back!! Taking the time to gently extend backwards prior to and intermittently throughout your yard work helps to balance the stress on your spine.
Body mechanics is positioning your body in such a way as to maintain proper alignment during all tasks in order to prevent injury. Yard work requires a lot of bending and lifting which places excess stress on joints – especially your back. Bend from the knees when picking up debris, slightly tighten your abdominal muscles when lifting, and hold the item to be lifted as close to your body as possible. Consider the use of a cart or wagon when moving heavy items such as pavers or trees. Stand in a staggered stance when raking: place one foot in front of the other and switch after 5-10 minutes.
Take breaks! Alternate upper body activities with those that use more legs, stretch in between tasks, listen to your body and change positions frequently. Also try to exchange which hand/foot used when digging or raking.
Be aware of the stresses placed on your hands, wrists, and shoulders. Repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and elbow or shoulder tendonitis can result from the repetitive movements done during gardening. The American Society of Hand Therapists recommend using ergonomic tools with larger, padded handles or curved handles to protect the smaller joints in your hands. Try to do tasks holding your wrists in a neutral, or straight, position.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as sitting and enjoying your view at the end of a long weekend of yard work. Make it even more enjoyable by using these steps and avoiding injury.
Written by Jodi Flanagn, MPT
Published Sept 2010