Some people look forward to this time of the year to work in their yards for stress-relief. If you’re more like me, the thought of having to do yard work causes more stress than it relieves. Regardless of how you look at yard work, if you want your yard to look like those on HGTV, you’ve got some work to do. And if you are like a lot of people I know, the first rush of planting, shoveling, mowing, cutting and raking has you looking for some relief for your aching back. So here are some tips on how you can protect your back while getting your yard in shape.
Take your time. Your body has forgotten about all of the twisting, lifting and digging that goes with yard work. Begin slowly and don’t do too much all at once. Split your big project into several smaller ones and don’t expect to get it all done in one day or weekend. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.
Warm up before you work. This does not mean stretching. Numerous studies have shown that stretching cold muscles increases the risk of injury. The best way to warm up is to simply walk around at a normal pace with your back nice and straight for five to fifteen minutes. You can also get your blood flowing and loosen up your muscles by taking a nice warm shower before you go out.
Posture is important. Stand up as straight as possible. Avoid having your head down, especially while shoveling or raking. Also, when raking, stand up straight by positioning your feet so that your right foot is forward and your left food is back for a while. Then reverse, putting your left foot forward and your right foot back. When mowing, remember to stand up straight and use your whole body weight to push the mower rather than just your arms and back. Refrain from pushing the machine up steep slopes. Move across the hills rather than directly up and down to avoid the additional load on your back.
Keep the work close to your body. Don’t reach out to do something or move something; you’re turning gravity into your enemy. Instead, move closer to the work, where leverage is your friend. The same idea applies to pulling weeds. Bend your knees, not your back, and use your arm muscles to pull the weeds. Have a seat if bad knees prevent you from squatting. Grass stains are better than a strained back.
Lift Properly. When picking things up, it’s very important that you hip hinge. This is done by bending at the knees and hips, not your spine. If you have to pick up piles of grass or other yard material. Make the piles small to decrease the possibility of back strain. Bags of mulch, top soil and fertilizer are heavy so lift them properly. Keep heavy objects close to your body, bend your knees, keep your back straight and let your leg muscles do the lifting. Get help if something is too heavy to lift alone. Don’t drag it across the lawn. That will damage your back along with the grass.
Use proper gardening tools. Well-made, long-handled tools make the work easier and ease the strain on your body. Some manufacturers make garden tools with handles designed to help ease back strain and arthritis pain in your hands. They are well worth the investment.
Hedge clipping is an endurance activity. Try to keep the clippers between shoulder and knee height. Avoid having to reach above your head or below your knees while standing. Cutting large branches with clippers can result in forearm strain and/or elbow tendonitis. Using the right tool will make a difference. Use pruning shears for larger jobs and clippers for the smaller jobs.
Wear a good pair of shoes. Yard work can put a lot of strain on your feet. Good foot support stops some of that strain from reaching your back. Sandals won’t do the job when it comes to yard work.
Keep the work in front of you. Turning and twisting puts tremendous pressure on your lower back. Instead, turn your body around so that you’re directly facing what you need to do.
NEVER reach AND twist! Sometimes, the layout of your garden may force you to work at arm’s length or face your work a little off to the side, but NEVER do both. Even a light object can damage your back if your arms are extended and your body is twisted. Don’t BEND and twist either. Raking and shoveling are common culprits for injuries that involve twisting. Focus on pivoting with the feet so that the shoulders and hips stay in alignment. This will reduce the twisting of your back.
Use shovel sense. Don’t dig straight-legged; your back has to do all the work. Instead, keep your knees slightly bent. That way, your legs—probably the strongest part of your body—will help carry the load. And always keep the shovel close to your body. When you’ve got a full shovel, don’t turn and throw. Instead, pick up your front foot, point it in the direction you want the dirt to go, pivot on your back foot until you’re facing that direction and then dispose of the dirt. It’ll take maybe an extra five minutes over a couple hours of work—and keep you out of the emergency room or your chiropractor’s office.
Following some of these simple guidelines will make your overall yard work experience much more pleasant, pain free and provide you the motivation to tackle the next yard task. Take time to get out and enjoy the beautiful spring weather and take in some fresh air. Just remember to take care of yourself while doing so.