Fall is in its final weeks, and the last leaves are just barely clinging to the trees. If you’re a homeowner, the sight of the brilliant autumn colors slowly turning to a dry, brown mess on your lawn is the signal that it’s time to pull out the rake, the leaf blower, and all the rest of the tools you’ll need for autumn cleanup. As satisfying as this work can be, it can also contribute to significant back pain if you’re doing it the wrong way.
At our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey, a lot of our patients come to us immediately after doing their seasonal plantings and cleanup, and it’s an unfortunate fact that many of the injuries that they suffer could have been avoided. If you’re pulling on the gardening gloves and getting ready to rake this weekend, here are our tips for how to take care of yourself and avoid injuring your back.
Fools rush in where wise men and women take their time and warm up first.
Just as you need to stretch and warm your muscles up before you exercise, you need to the same before you start your yard work. You don’t have to do anything to complicated. Just walking around the block before you get started will send blood into the muscles of your legs, lower back and arms. A few toe touches and gentle stretches would help too.
When planting, weeding or digging, don’t kneel on both knees.
It may feel like the smart and natural thing to get down on both knees to work at ground level, but if you keep one foot on the ground and only kneel on one knee, you give your back much greater stability. If being on one knee is a problem due to previous knee injuries, try sitting on a small stool. The goal is always to keep your spine neutral rather than rounded and hunched over.
Turn, don’t twist.
When you need to lift something that’s to your side, don’t twist at the waist to do it. Instead, take a moment to turn your entire body, including your feet and hips so that you are entirely turned towards the focus of your efforts. Avoiding twisting is important to avoiding injury.
Raking is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you try to save time by using long strokes, you’re much more likely to hurt yourself. Instead, use small strokes and shuffle your feet forwards and back forwards, keeping your body in an upright position rather than leaning forward to reach farther ahead.
As always, bend at your knees, not at your waist.
You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it bears repeating. Whenever you’re bending, whether it’s to pick up something heavy or light, use the power that’s in your legs by bending at your knees. And when lifting, keep the heavy item close to your body.
Gardening and yard clean up can make your home look even more beautiful, but doing it the right way is key to not ending up injuring yourself.
If you do end up with an aching back or neck and the pain doesn’t go away in a few days, contact our office to set up a consultation with our lumbar spine specialist.