Yard Work Can Be Benficial, Safe And Enjoyable

OSWEGO, NY – Spring has officially arrived!

The last few days some of the animal friends in the back yard are becoming more active.

spinal_columnWe have had warmer days, the baseball season has started and the bulbs around my office have popped out of the ground.

Several patients have reported being out in their yards and cleaning up.

Of course we entered into a discussion of how to accomplish the job and stay healthy.

After the snow, the landscape looks dirty and littered with debris such as road salt, dead leaves remaining from fall, branches and twigs scattered by our brisk winds etc.

Many people, already, are taking to their yards to clean up.

The other day, at a local business, I observed people loading mulch into their van.

It is an exciting time, when we emerge from winter  to begin clean up and gardening.

Gardening and yard work have many perks.

They provide a workout and are great calorie burners, burning between 350 and 450 calories per hour.

These activities act as a stress reducer and mood elevator for many people.

Yard work has another health perk.

It is classified as weight bearing exercise (mowing, pulling weeds, digging holes, etc.) which benefits people in danger of Osteoporosis.

See the site of the National Osteoporosis Foundation (http:www.nof.org) for more on weight bearing exercises.

In addition, people are motivated to do this kind of exercise by the beautiful results of their project.

They do not have to travel to another location to perform the exercise, and they can work on it a little at a time as their health and time constraints dictate.

As with any physical activity, check with your doctor asking him if you have any health limitations and if there are any modifications necessary.

Yard work is strenuous and you do not want to further complicate health problems.

Many of us have been in “hibernation” for the last few months, and our muscles need conditioning.

Before you start your work, stretch out and do the warming up exercises.

I have discussed this before under shoveling. The same considerations apply.

Common causes of injuries that are seen in chiropractic offices are such injuries as: neck, back and shoulder resulting from bending, kneeling, raking, lifting etc.

A very common cause of problems is lifting awkward, heavy bags of landscaping materials such as wood chip and fertilizer.

The serious gardener has often developed strategies to spare their bodies, but those of us who want a nice front yard and bull into it on the weekend have a heightened risk of injury.

The flat carts you see, or even less expensive your child’s wagon, is very helpful and back sparing as opposed to lugging those heavy bags of fertilizer, mulch, plants and shrubs around the yard.

When you carry the fertilizer or mulch bags, do not stand straight and drop the bags to the ground.

I have seen this often, and while it appears to be easier, as your body goes forward, the rapid motion as you release it causes your muscles in your spine to contract.

This can cause injury and a great deal of pain.

Bend at the knees and place your load on the ground. If this is not possible, because the load is too heavy, separate the contents into smaller bags or pails and carry it to the different locations in your yard.

If you are shoveling or digging, do not overload your shovel to get done faster.

The weight of the shovel and dirt together should not exceed 10-15 pounds depending upon your stature and degree of physical fitness.

If you are shoveling heavier loads, you are increasing the probability of injury.

If you are aiming your load at an exact spot, as opposed to dumping it close by, the load should be even smaller, because that takes more control and effort.

Employ good body mechanics in lifting the dirt.

The proper stance to protect your muscles and spine is to stand with your legs shoulder width apart and your front foot close to the shovel.

Your weight should be distributed on your front foot.

Your leg should push the shovel not your back.

Now shift your weight to your back foot. Keep the load close to your body. Your feet should be turned in the direction you are throwing.

When you are raking use the scissor stance.

Like a pair of scissors opened, your feet should be shoulder width apart; one leg will be forward and the other back.

Switch the leg positions periodically.

A mower with a pull cord is frequently the cause of back strain.

If you are using a mower with a pull cord, do not stand straight and do not yank on the cord.

Bend at the knees to the proper level to pull the cord in one continuous and smooth motion.

To give the muscles a rest and exercise other muscle groups, vary your activities.

After digging or raking for a while, switch to a lighter activity like pulling weeds or watering flowers.

Pace yourself.

When you feel tired, your body is telling you it needs to rest.

When you are gardening, change hands as much as possible.

This will prevent one side from being unduly stressed.

It will feel strange, but will become easier as time goes on.

If you have been following The Spinal Column, you will remember in an article I talked about choosing the proper shovel as one size does not fit all.

The same applies in summer for shovels, rakes, post hole diggers etc.

You need the proper tools.

Contrary to what we think, one tool does not fit all.

A shovel of about 3 pounds is best.

The lighter the shovel, rake etc. the better.

Heavy tools are not suitable.

Then there is the consideration of length.

If a shovel or rake  is up to chest height when the bottom touches the ground, it minimizes the amount of bending and allows better leverage thus reducing the strain on your back.

The above considerations apply to children as well, with modifications.

The equipment must be selected in proportion to their smaller stature and developmental level.

Sometimes we need to curb a child’s enthusiasm and competitive nature for their safety.

Children love to help, and it can be a great opportunity to teach them proper body mechanics.

Many people have chronic back and neck problems.

If your doctor clears you to garden, with modifications, gardening is possible without causing a great deal of pain.

Many of the gardening magazines and articles are talking a great deal about raised beds and planting boxes.

There are also iron staffs to keep hanging baskets at an accessible height without straining to water them.

I have even seen hanging baskets on pulleys to allow easier watering of baskets which are suspended at a difficult height.

All of this is the market response to the masses out there in need of modifications due to a health problem and those individuals who are conscious of better ergonomics to avoid a health problem.

As with any physical exercise, rest periodically and most importantly listen to your body.

If your muscles are aching, or you are tired your body is signaling you to stop and rest.

If you experience shortness of breath lightheadedness, dizziness, chest pains etc., seek medical attention immediately.

Waiting to get treatment can exacerbate a condition and take much longer to heal.

Have a happy and safe spring by being proactive and planning ahead.

Dr. McCaffrey practices at McCaffrey Chiropractic, 184 W. Fourth. St., phone 342-3877, www.mccaffreychiro.com