Preparation and Body Mechanics for Yard Work

Mature woman raking leaves in her garden looking at camera and smiling. Shallow DOF, focus on woman.As winter finally seems to be relinquishing its hold on our region, many people are beginning to ready themselves for warmer weather, and with that comes the need to start those necessary yard work tasks. This includes raking, gardening, shoveling, lawn mowing, and all other sorts of outdoor activity. Unfortunately, many find that the initiation of such activity often results in injury and pain due to poor preparation and body mechanics, especially as we are coming out of a season of less strenuous indoor activity. It is important to follow several guidelines to properly complete yard work activity while maintaining good health:

  1. Perform an adequate warm up prior to initiating any strenuous activity. This could include something as simple as a walk up and down the street. By merely moving around a bit, blood flow improves, which provides the necessary oxygen to muscles to allow for proper contraction. Movement also loosens muscles and lubricates joints to allow for more tolerable activity.
  2. Once warmed up, do a few light stretches to further extend muscles. Make sure to incorporate stretches for the arms, legs and trunk. Stretch only to the point of a mild pull rather than going so far as to cause a strong, uncomfortable strain. It is also important to note that stretching be done after activity as well. It is at this time that you get the most out of stretching, as your body is at its loosest, so the stretch can be done more deeply, and it will help minimize post-activity muscle tightening and soreness.
  3. When bending and lifting, bend at the knees and hips, keeping the back in a straight neutral position. Maintain normal breathing while lifting, and avoid holding your breath and bearing down to lift. Keep any load as close to the body as possible rather than reaching out to lift an item. Lift weight that is doable, and share the load if necessary.
  4. Avoid twisting, especially when lifting. In general, your face and your feet should always be facing the same direction. If turning is necessary, turn your entire body as one rather than twisting.
  5. Limit overhead work to avoid straining the arms, shoulders, neck, and back. If a task needs to be completed at a height, consider a step stool or ladder to bring the task to a more level height, making sure that you are safe on the stool or ladder. Use a spotter (that is, another person watching you) if necessary.
  6. Listen to your body. This means that if you feel too strained or fatigued, you probably either need to avoid/stop the activity or adjust to make it easier.

If an injury does occur, it is important to address it sooner rather than later. Oftentimes, applying ice to an injury right away is the best initial course of action. Ice helps numb pain and control inflammation. Ice is generally applied for 10-15 minutes at a time, but be sure to have some barrier, such as a shirt or towel, between the ice and your skin. Once pain is more under control, attempt to do light movement and stretching within your ability in order to promote more normal mobility. Staying stationary for long periods of time will only result in further stiffening and may prolong the overall recovery process.

If pain persists more than a day or two, you may want to consult your physician and/or seek out physical therapy treatment. Here at Advanced PMR, we will be happy to assist you with any injury that might occur, as we offer both physical therapy and acupuncture treatment. We will be sure to get you back to normal as quickly as possible. Plus, we will teach you strategies you can use in the future to both avoid further injury and to self-treat if injury were to occur.

However, the ultimate goal of this article is to give you tips to follow in order to avoid injury in the first place. By practicing good preparation and body mechanics, you should have no problem sprucing up your lawns, planting those flower and vegetable gardens, and updating all aspects of the exterior of your home. Enjoy the warm weather everyone!

Dr. Rob Kohutanycz, PT, DPT

Posted in: Fitness, Health & Wellness

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