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How to Avoid Injury in the Yard

Springtime means yard work. Yard work is great exercise, but you can still injure yourself if you don’t take time to stretch before beginning. It’s also important to practice good ergonomics when completing tasks. This excerpt from Health Partners provides good information and tips on how to enjoy your springtime gardening without pain.

Whether you’re mowing the lawn, gardening, raking, or weeding, yard work can lead to back pain. And if you’re not careful, a long day in the yard can take a toll on your body, especially your back and spine.

That’s because the way we do everyday things like yard work puts stress on our bodies. A wrong move can cause a new injury. Plus, improper body mechanics like the way you lift, and twist can speed up the wear and tear on your spine, which is a common cause of chronic back pain. And if you already deal with chronic back pain, these outdoor activities can lead to a flare-up – so you may end up avoiding them.

Yard work can be a great way to stay active if you follow a few key tips:

1. Warm-up before heading outside

Take five to 10 minutes to warm up prior to jumping into gardening or yard work. I recommend a short walk followed by a few minutes of stretching your low back, arms, and legs.

2. Get down on one knee

No, not to propose. But if you’re planting or weeding, instead of being on both knees, try having one leg up to stabilize your low back.

man demonstrating how to kneel in yard on one knee

You can also use the side-sitting position to decrease stress on your lower back, or consider using a pad for support or a small stool to sit on.

man demonstrating how to side sit in yard when doing yardwork

With any of these, try to avoid rounding your low back. Focus on keeping a neutral spine – not an arched one.

1. Pivot, don’t twist

Pivoting your body is always the best option. That means moving your feet and hips in the same direction as your upper body, instead of keeping them planted and twisting at the spine. If twisting is unavoidable, make sure to engage your core by pulling your belly button in toward your spine as you move.

2. Shuffle as you rake

Whether you’re raking dead grass in the spring or fallen leaves in the fall, think “small strokes.” Instead of keeping your feet planted and bending your back to extend your reach, use smaller strokes and shuffle your feet back and forth. I share similar advice for mowing the lawn. Stay in an upright posture and keep the lawnmower handle close to your body.

3. Bend your knees, not your waist

When picking up heavier objects, such as large bags of leaves, sticks, or weeds, squat down by bending at your knees, not your waist. Also, practice good lifting habits by keeping heavy things close to your body. And if you have a lot of material to haul (rocks, mulch, etc.), use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to help.

4. Give yourself a break

With all of these tasks, it’s important to change positions and take frequent breaks. Rotate between tasks as you go to avoid putting too much stress on one part of your body. For example, instead of raking, weeding, and then pruning for an hour each, rake for 20 minutes, then weed for 20 minutes, then prune for 20 minutes. Take a short break between each task, and then restart the circuit. It’s also a good idea to stretch and ice your low back once you’re finished.

Around 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t have to hold you back from doing what you love. My final tip is to ask for help! The more you can divide up the work, the less stress you’ll put on your spine – and the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy your beautiful lawn or garden!

Credit: Kelci Fraser, PTA, B.S.Kin as appeared in Health Partners


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