Injury Prevention Tips for this Memorial Day Weekend

Injury Prevention Tips for this Memorial Day Weekend

Getting ready for summer seems like a great idea for Memorial Day.  The weather is getting nicer and it’s time to prepare flower beds, plant flowers, create or clean up the garden, weed, mulch, get out patio furniture, and end the weekend with a BBQ and smores.  This all sounds great until you wake up Monday and can barely get out of bed because of pain.  Below are tips to prevent injuring yourself this holiday so you can enjoy all of your hard work and relax on Memorial Day.

Yard work is a form of exercise when done correctly. However, it is an exercise, and with any exercise program, it is important to warm-up correctly. In addition, it is important to use proper body mechanics. Failing to perform a proper warm-up, and utilizing poor body mechanics, makes you more susceptible to injuries.

Body mechanics is defined as posture in motion. Using proper alignment, the force of gravity in the body is minimized in terms of stress on the joints and work required by the muscles. Using the “ready position” during yard work tasks, allows your body to be in an optimal alignment for lifting, raking, and shoveling. The “ready position” is when your knees are bent, your feet are shoulder width apart, and your weight is on your heels. Your spine remains straight while you bend at your hips. It will feel like you are lowering yourself to sit down in a chair. “When in doubt, stick it out.” If you stick your seat behind you and keep your weight on your heels, it will help you maintain a proper “ready position”.

Below is an exaggeration of what your “ready position” should look like.

Warm up

Raking and pulling weeds are reach and pull activities, and shoveling and digging are push and lift activities. Your warm-up should take 5-10 minutes simulating these motions. For example,  maintain your “ready position” and step one foot forward. To simulate raking, reach your arms forward while stepping forward. Then pull back while stepping back. To simulate shoveling, squat down while stepping forward, almost like a mini lunge, and push your arms forward. Then, step back and use your legs to bring you back up, while pretending to lift something up with your arms. With either warm-up, repeat 10 times and then step forward with the opposite leg and repeat 10 times on that side.

Next, hold your rake or shovel with both hands, hands about shoulder width apart, and lift it over your head 10 times. Then place the rake or shovel behind your head. Keeping your knees slightly bent, gently rotate to the right, shifting your weight to the right, and then go to the left, shifting your weight to the left. Perform 10 times on each side. Next, pull one knee to your chest. Repeat 10 times on each side. Lastly, place your hands in the small of your back, and gently arch your back backwards. Repeat 10 times. Stop to perform this last exercise frequently while raking or shoveling. Both raking and shoveling are ‘bent over’ exercises. This stretch will help maintain proper body mechanics by allowing your back to go back to its natural curves.

Raking and Shoveling

Now that you’ve warmed up it is time to get to work! Proper body mechanics while performing raking or shoveling tasks includes body positioning performed during the warm up exercises. While raking, start in the ready position with one foot forward, reach forward with your rake while taking a step forward at the same time. As you pull the rake back towards you, take a step back. While shoveling you also begin in the ready position with one foot forward, as you reach forward with your arms you will squat forward with your legs, as if performing a mini lunge. Step back with your leg and pull your arms back towards you. Alternate which hand and foot you are leading with about every 10 minutes, and before you switch arms take a break and perform a few lean backs (these were also reviewed in the warm up) if it helps give your back some relief. With both raking and shoveling tasks make sure to keep the rake/shovel close to you, don’t reach too far forward as you are performing these tasks as this will cause extra strain on the low back. Keep your back straight and bend at your hips.

 

Lifting

If you find yourself needing to pick up something make sure that when you do so you are maintaining a neutral spine, tight core and ready position. Bend with your knees versus leaning forward and using your back. As you are lifting your item make sure that you keep it close to your body.  This can also be applied to tasks such as weed whacking, leaf blowing and taking out the trash. When you are performing these tasks make sure to keep those objects close to your body. As you are holding an item try to not keep your feet planted and twist you back. Take small steps turning to the direction you are going. If you have a wheelbarrow you should transfer your heavier item into this and then proceed to move it to where you need it. If you ever are questioning if something is too heavy to lift by yourself, seek out assistance from a family or neighbor. If possible you may also try breaking up what you need to carry into a lighter load. Grab a small bucket and fill it with dirt instead of carrying a 50lb bag. No need to strain your bag just to pick up that big bag of dirt!

Here is an example of what to do while lifting, though you may not be putting the item on the shelf, it is important to keep the load close to you and use your feet to twist rather than at your back/waist.

Reaching Overhead

 

If you are working on anything overhead take a break every 5-8 minutes. If you can, utilize a ladder to bring your activity closer to you so you don’t have to reach. Prolonged overhead reaching can lead to fatigued shoulder muscles and in turn shoulder injuries.

Bending Forward

If you are working on anything that involves reaching down try to bring that closer to you. If you can bring the task up higher. Such as with planting flowers, bring your dirt, pots and flowers onto a work bench and work and waist level. If you can’t bring the activity up higher than get down lower so that you are closer to it. You can do this by squatting down, if you are unable to squat, try kneeling. If you are kneeling down, try kneeling onto a mat or wearing knee pads. This will take some of that extra pressure off of your knee joints. If you are unable to squat down or kneel for an extended period of time try sitting on a chair or something sturdy that will bring you down closer to your activity.  Even when you are sitting make sure that you maintain a tight core, and neutral spine. When you are mowing it is important to not lean forward, keep the mower close to you and use your legs to propel yourself forward. The main goal is to avoid leaning forward for an extended period of time in order to best avoid injury.

Cool Down

A cool down is just as important as a warm up when it comes to exercising and preventing soreness and injuries. Once you have completed your yard work take a 5 minute walk around the block and finish with some stretches. Giving your body this time to relax can help prevent unwanted soreness when you wake up the next day.

A proper warm-up and cool down, sound body mechanics (i.e. maintaining the “ready position”, tight core and neutral spine), taking frequent breaks, and changing your foot position every 10 minutes will help prevent back injury. Switching which arm you are using during raking, shoveling and overhead injuries can help to avoid an overuse injury. Also remember to DRINK YOUR WATER! Hydration is always important when performing any type of exercise. This is a general guideline to assist you with body mechanics as you get that yard looking beautiful. Please consult with a Physician or physical therapist for your individual needs if you are experiencing any pain with these activities.

Getting Back into Exercise Safely

Are you anxious to getting back to the gym? Or are you finding yourself not as active due to spending more time at home during these unprecedented times? Most of us are feeling sluggish and want to begin exercising or jump right back into the gym. However, the gyms are still closed until the end of the month and we have a great opportunity to possibly start, get back to, or progress a lasting workout routine at home. We also know starting where we left off two months ago can result in injury, so it is best to start now with a small routine to get back to your previous level of exercise before the gyms open up again!

Exercise is GOOD for us:

Physical activity has numerous health benefits, both mentally and physically. Benefits include improving muscular strength/endurance, decreasing blood pressure, and reducing stress and anxiety. There is a great sense of accomplishment when you reach a new fitness goal or can perform activities you couldn’t before.

Every journey starts with a single step:

Try not to get overwhelmed. Getting back into exercising or even beginning a workout regimen doesn’t need to be difficult, scary, or overwhelming. Start small and start easy. If you start with light weight or a shorter walk and it goes great, WOOT WOOT, then don’t be afraid to increase a little. Emphasis on a little! For example, if you start walking for 10 minutes and do that for a few days then try increasing that time by 5 minutes and continuing with this progression at a gradual rate. Before you know, you may find yourself walking for 30 minutes with ease! This goes for weight progression as well. Start with no weight while performing exercises, focusing on proper form. Once your form is good then try adding light weights. You may progress to a heavier weight when you feel you can complete 3 sets of 10 of an exercise with no difficulty and maintain proper form.

If you are someone who was exercising before and are trying to get back into your routine make sure you ease yourself in, do a percentage of that activity and work up to your previous level of activity slowly. For example, if before quarantine you were running 3 miles, start with running 1 or 1 ½ miles. If this is tolerated well for one week you start progressing ¼ mile each week until back to 3 miles. The human body is amazing in how it can change, but it doesn’t like to do it in a day. The way to avoid overuse aches, pains, and injuries is to slowly work up to more and more intense activities.

If you are just starting to get into exercising or have decreased balance, then you can still get a good workout in! Exercises performed in a chair are a great way to get moving and stay safe at the same time. If you start to feel like chair exercises are easy, progress to performing standing exercises at a counter, in order to hang on for balance.

Keep in mind, as you begin to exercise you may experience some muscle soreness. This is ok and normal, but it should not last more than a few days. If it is, then try decreasing weights, distance, sets or reps of an exercise, as you may be over doing it. A good way to prevent overuse of a muscle group is to work different areas of your body on different days. Split up which days you perform arm exercises and leg exercises. And you only have to begin with 20-30 minutes a day to get back into a routine!

No matter what type of exercise you are performing, a good way to gauge intensity level is with an RPE (Rated Perceived Exertion) scale. The RPE scale ranges from 1-10, with 1 being light level activity and 10 being max level activity. For most cases, when you are exercising you should be in the 3-4 range (moderate level range) of activity level. You may also use this scale to gauge progression with activities. If you are performing an exercise and feel like it’s a 2 in terms of intensity, then maybe it is time to increase the distance you are running or weights you are using to get yourself back up to that 3-4 range.

Where to Start and How Much should you start with?

Ideally you want to perform 3 sets of 10 of an exercise, 3-5 days a week. As you are starting out you may need to perform fewer sets and repetitions of each exercise or take rest breaks throughout and that is ok! As long as you are performing these exercises with proper form and maintaining pain free movements you are doing great! It is always important to remember to start out at a level of activity that you are comfortable with.

When it comes to walking or running, it depends on your previous level of exercise. If you have not done any walking or running in months or even years, then start with 10 min a day until you can do it without soreness and shortness of breath. Then increase 5 min every few days as your body allows. If you were a runner before, then start at a quarter or a third of what you were doing before stopping. Here a few running and walking charts we have found are good for beginners and those trying to work back into a long running program. As always, you can adjust a day based on how you are feeling. And make sure you stay hydrated!

You can do the walking challenge if you have never ran and want to start off slow! You can also make the 30-day walking challenge into running if you had been running shorter distances and need to start slow again! The second chart is for runners who are more trained but need a way to ease into things at a higher level. Remember, you can increase or decrease each day based on what you can tolerate!

In addition, It is important to incorporate a warmup into your exercise routine to prevent injury. The purpose of a warmup is to gradually increase your heart rate and get your muscles stretched in preparation for physical activity. Some examples of warmups are a short walk, jumping jacks, or arm circles. Once your heart rate is increased it is important to stretch the muscles that you are going to work out. Examples of common muscle groups in your legs to stretch are your hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps. Arm and neck stretches may include biceps, triceps, pecs (chest), upper traps, and levator muscles. These stretches can all be found on our website! Once you’ve completed your warmup and stretches you are ready to exercise!

If you are someone who is interested in getting back to exercising again safely, but are having any pain, difficulty or discomfort while doing so, then stop and consult with your Doctor or a physical therapist. A physical therapist will perform an evaluation and assess your body movement, flexibility, strength, balance and endurance. Based on the findings, we will work with you to create a customized exercise program that will help you reach your goals. Along with an exercise program, various manual techniques, such as soft tissue massage, Astym (tissue regeneration using various tools), mobilizations and manual stretching may be utilized to further improve your rehabilitation.

Let’s get off the couch and get started!