As the leaves start to turn yellow and the weather gets cooler, fall is in the air, which means it’s time to prepare your garden before the ground freezes! Due to the increase in your fall planting and preparation activities, this increase in workload can also increase your chance of injuries.

Fall gardening can be quite strenuous, and thus harder on your body!

  • Planting spring bulbs
  • Trimming back perennials
  • Staking young trees for support
  • Getting rid of diseased foliage
  • Pulling weeds
  • Mulching garden beds
  • Bringing in any warmer weather plants
  • Cleaning and storing garden tools and pots
  • Fertilizing your lawn

All of these activities require a range of motion within your back, hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and other joints that you may have not performed all summer. Since we know that your garden cannot be put off (and fall does not wait for you), sometimes you may want to rush into getting it done. This is when you can easily injure yourself.

We see numerous injuries in our clinic every fall that can be classified under “doing too much, too soon”. Use a checklist to reduce injuries so you’re not scrambling to get everything done in one day!

To make sure you get through your fall-to-do list without injury, we’ve created a handy list of 5 preventative measures you can take to avoid yardwork ailments.

The Warm-up

You’ve been enjoying the ease of summer gardening, with minimal tasks for the last few months, and now it’s time to hunker down and prepare for the cool weather! You wouldn’t walk into the gym and start lifting heavier than you’re accustomed to, as such, your yard preparation should be the same. In other words, you need to warm up!

As we age, our joints and the surrounding connective tissues become less flexible and tighter than they were previously. You may notice this when you get up in the mornings and notice you feel stiffer than you used to, this is all a normal part of the aging process.

You should always take 5-10 minutes to stretch and warm up your entire musculoskeletal system (this may even become a great morning routine for you in the future).

As you begin to move, your body becomes a heat generator, causing your connective tissues to become more pliable and less prone to injury. When you know which gardening activity you will be performing, begin mimicking the task that you are going to perform. This may include squats, knee lifts (to your chest), overhead arm extensions, and side bends. Hold each position for 5-10 seconds and repeat three to four times on each side.

*Note: It is also valuable to perform a cool-down stretch after you’ve completed your outdoor fall tasks.

If don’t usually do stretches, just remember to take it easy and slowly build up your outdoor physical activities by no more than 15 minutes per day.

  • Day One: 15 min Organize your tools and make a plan
  • Day Two: 15 min Remove dead foliage
  • Day Three: 30 min Plant spring bulbs and trim back perennials
  • Day Four: 30 min Cut the grass if necessary
  • Day Five: 45 min Continue on with your fall preparation gardening plan

Wear Appropriate Gardening Attire

Wearing tight clothing that may inhibit your range of motion can also lead to injury. Restrictive cotton denim with little to no stretch will not allow you to do full squats required in order to safely do your fall tasks.

A good way to avoid this is by wearing baggier clothing, or athletic wear that will allow you to move, pivot, bend, and extend naturally. Proper footwear is a must as well; shoes should have ankle and arch support, be sturdy, and have non-slip soles. Wearing flip-flops or heels (we hope you wouldn’t do that!), could result in plantar fascia, and/or ankle and arch sprain. Recovering from these when they could have been avoided is not something you want to be dealing with.

Use Proper Lifting Form

Bend at the knee and hip, thus you can alleviate pressure on your back. As your leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, and even glutes) are much stronger than your lower back muscles, they are meant to withstand more weight and frequent bending. Avoid twisting your torso, keep your knees bent and back straight while performing work such as mowing the lawn or lifting pots.

It is a good idea to place one hand on your thigh or the ground for support when planting spring bulbs or removing weeds. This will ensure you have proper support while your other arm works.

Alternate your Right and Left arms to Avoid Repetition and Strain

When using only one side of your body while performing fall yard work, this may lead to overuse of one side. This can cause your body to overcompensate. You may find you favor a side (Just as one may be right or left-handed).

Performing repetitive motions on one side of your body can not only cause an imbalance but a strain on your body. This can impact your forearm, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and hands.

An easy way to avoid injury is by setting a 5- or 10-minute timer (depending on the length of the activity) on your phone. This way you can do equal minute intervals switching from your left arm to your right arm or vice versa.

Performing repetitive motions on one side can also lead to imbalances, for more information on this, you can refer to our blog on habits that can give you imbalances.

Avoid Pruner’s Elbow

Just as there is “tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow”, avid and even new gardeners should be aware of “pruner’s elbow”. When you are working “small parts” removing dead foliage or trimming back shrubs and trees using a pruner you can create hand, elbow, and wrist strain. When operating tools with small parts such as pruners, it’s a good idea to use a body-regional approach.

In order to do this, you should start by envisioning your arm as being an unbroken line between your forearm and hand. Keep your wrist straight and avoid bending your wrist forward, backward, or tilting it to one side while pruning. If you bend your wrist in unnatural directions too far while pruning, you might strain the muscles that keep your wrists in their respective positions.

Not only does your wrist play an important role in the unbroken line, but this extends even further to your shoulder. Being aware of the line that connects from your hands to your shoulders through your arms, you can utilize a more body regional approach to performing your gardening activities. Envisioning the unbroken line will assist you in proper weight distribution across your fingers, wrists, and arms to avoid pruner’s elbow and other potential ailments.

Have you suffered an injury while working in the yard this season? Or are you seeking to treat existing pain and/or a loss of function so that you can return your garden beds this fall? Call Collegiate Sports Medicine today and we’ll get you back in the backyard before it gets away from you.

Our Team Can Help you Get on Track. If you would like some advice just give us a call.

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