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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.