Just as playing football or golf can injure your body, the twisting, turning, bending and reaching involved in raking and using leaf blowers and other yard equipment that is so common this time of year can also cause pain and injury. Like an athlete who leaps into a sport without warming up, your chances of injury increase if you take on yard work without some preparation, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).
Start with a warm-up/cool-down period that involves stretching your body. Breathe in and out slowly throughout each stretching exercise until the muscle is stretched to its furthest point. At that point, hold your breath in; when you relax, breathe out. Stretch gently and smoothly. Do not bounce or jerk your body and stretch as far as you can comfortably.
After your warm-up, ACA offers the following suggestions for avoiding strain and injury:
- Wear supportive shoes. Good foot and arch support can help prevent back strain.
- Stand as straight as possible and keep your head up as you rake or mulch.
- When raking, use a "scissors" stance: right foot forward and left foot back for a few minutes, then reverse, putting your left foot forward and right foot back.
- Bend at the knees, not the waist, as you pick up yard equipment or piles of leaves. Make the piles small to decrease the possibility of back strain.
- To avoid blisters, wear gloves. If you have asthma or allergies, wear a mask.
- Regardless of what piece of equipment you use, make sure it has a strap and that you use it. Place the strap over your head on the shoulder opposite the side of your body from the device. This will help normalize your center of gravity. Be sure to switch the side on which you operate the equipment as often as possible and alternate your stance and motion frequently to balance the muscles being used.
- If your mulching mower has a pull cord, don't twist at the waist or yank the cord. Instead, bend at the knees and pull in one smooth motion.
If you do experience pain or discomfort following yard work, it may be time to visit a chiropractor. Chiropractic services are used most often to treat common musculoskeletal complaints such as back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches. According to a Gallup survey, about 35 million people visit a chiropractor each year. For more information about chiropractic and injury prevention, visit HandsDownBetter.org.