If you’re taking advantage of having more time at home to finally tackle yard projects, make sure you they don’t take you down the following week.
Yard work includes uncomfortable positions, heavy lifting, and repetitive movements that can lead to neck, back, wrist, and knee pain.
Lauren Zilke, doctor of physical therapy, at Core Physical Therapy has suggestions to keep you in top form and help you avoid overuse injuries.
Treat It Like a Workout
Before you start your weekend project, be sure to warm up. Loading and unloading heavy materials, bending and placing items into position, and digging are all moderate to high-intensity activities, so treat them as such with a dynamic warm-up.
“Yard work really is a workout,” Zilke said. “You wouldn’t go run a marathon without warming up, same deal with yard work.”
If you’ll be pushing a lawn mower, start with some walking lunges. If you’ll be raking, digging, shoveling, or doing overhead work, warm up your shoulders by gently pulling one arm across your body until you feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder. Then do some twisting toe touches by reaching high with one arm then twisting and lowering to touch your opposite toe with your hand. And switch sides.
Some squats with good form will warm up the whole body and get you ready for lifting and working your legs.
- Start with feet shoulder width apart
- Push butt back as you bend the knees
- Keep your chest up
- Push knees out slightly
Your squat technique is the same you’ll want to use when lifting heavy items, so do a dozen or so without added weight to get your body ready. This technique will remind you not to round your back, which puts pressure on your spine and can lead to injury.
It also ensures that you’re using your powerful glute and quadricep muscles, which can handle heavier loads than your back (ouch!).
When it’s time to pick up heavy items, always keep your feet, trunk and your heavy objects in line. The item should be directly in font of you so you’re not twisting to pick it up. Then keep the heavy load close to your body as you lift.
“A lot of yard work forces you to be in awkward postures,” Zilke said. “Every half hour or so switch activities or take a break.”
If you have a project partner, you could trade off tasks. If you’re working solo, take breaks to reset your body. You can even set an alarm to remind yourself.
Zilke also recommended swallowing any pride and asking for help carrying heavy items. Being humble might mean you don’t have to spend Monday morning at the physical therapist’s clinic.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Before starting on your project, take a moment to set up your work area. You might be able to eliminate some opportunities for injury, as Zilke learned from her own yard work experience.
For example, if you’re going to the hardware store to pick up heavy items like bags of top soil or pavers, drive the hatchback or pick-up truck if you have one. That puts your heavy load at hip level, so you don’t have to bend to retrieve items from a car’s trunk.
See if you can unload the vehicle as close to the worksite as possible, so you don’t have to carry heavy items long distances like around the house.
Setting up a table with your tools on it prevents you from having to bend over to pick them up off the ground.
Don’t mistake gardening for a pain-free activity. Gardening injuries put more people in the hospital than rugby and skiing! Overuse injuries are common. Gardening can put your back, wrists, and neck in uncomfortable positions. Similar to other yard work, start with some gentle stretches. Don’t forget to give your wrists some rolls.
If you’re a regular gardener, you might want to consider investing in some knee protection and ergonomic gardening tools that keep your wrists in a neutral position.
Make sure to use proper lifting technique when moving heavy pots or bags of soil. Don’t stay in uncomfortable positions too long either. Switch tasks or take a break at least every 30 minutes.
When You’re Done
Continue with that mindset of yard work as a form of exercise. Rather than collapsing on the couch, cool down a bit with a little walk and some stretches.
“Your body does need to come back to baseline,” Zilke explained.
Just like when you’re working out, expect to have some muscle soreness the days after heavy lifting or challenging yard work. Some soreness is OK, but if you experience sharp pain, call your doctor or physical therapist.
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