The spring season is upon us (finally) which means it is time to get out there and get those gardens started! This increase or change in workload can lead to an increase in many kinds of injuries.
Spring gardening, as you know, can be very hard on the body.
- The lawn needs raking,
- the garden boxes need to be filled,
- the ground needs to be prepped to plant seeds,
- yard waste needs to be lifted into a green bin,
- plants need to be pruned back or dug up,
- new mulch needs to be added to old beds…
These motions all require significant effort from the knees, hips, back, shoulders, elbows, and many other joints. Combine this with the fact that our bodies have not needed to do these motions for a few months, which means we are at a higher risk of getting hurt. As with every season – we change up what we do and with the urgency, it needs to be done.
Many injuries that we see in the clinic can be classified under the phrase, “you did too much, too soon” or “you did something new and your body is not used to that at all”. These injuries are not to say you are incapable of doing the job at all, but instead, we should not be trying to tick everything off the Spring to-do list all in one day.
To make sure you make it through the season without injury, you need to be armed with the right information, and advice that will help you prevent ailments common to spring activities.
5 Ways to Prevent Yard Work Injuries Common to the Spring Season
Your body is coming off a winter routine, and now you’re thrusting it into a different environment. Therefore, you must treat yard work in the same manner that you would visit the gym. In other words, warm up. You may feel silly doing this (for yard work) at first, but remember that as we age, the connective tissues and muscles around our joints are less flexible and less pliable than they were years ago. As a result, jumping from the stagnant position of your bed, sofa, or kitchen table and right into yard work can get you injured. Take 5-10 minutes to stretch and warm up your whole musculoskeletal system. As your body begins to generate heat, your connective tissues will become more pliable and less open to injury. Stretching positions and warm-up activities should mimic those you are about to take in the yard or garden, including (but not exclusive to) squats, knee lifts (to the chest), overhead arm extensions, and side bends. Hold each position for 5-10 seconds and repeat three or four times on each side.
Note: Remember to perform ‘cool down’ stretches after you’ve completed your outdoor work as well.
If you are the “naaaa forget that business” kind of gardener, remember to just take it easy and go slow and build by no more than 15 minutes a day.
- Day 1 15 min get stuff out and rake a bit, organize your tools and make a plan
- Day 2 15 min cut back dead plants and pick leaves out of the garden beds, rake a bit (now that you know where the rake is)
- Day 3 30 min Add peat moss to the soil around plants that are still dormant, rake a bit more lawn to get the dog toy fragments picked up
- Day 4 30 min Cut the grass (30 mins of it anyways) depending on the size of your yard, pick up dog poop from the dog run & sort through your garden seeds with a glass of water on the patio
- Day 5 45 min who are we kidding – (you are probably up to 2 or 3 hours by now). Plant all of the seeds that are ok with cold weather, get all the grass cut again because you are having an outdoor gathering and you want it to look awesome, move all the patio furniture to the best sunny spots and haul wood in from the acreage to allow you to have a big fire as we know the rules don’t allow your guests to warm in the house……
- Day 6 ☹
Wear Appropriate Clothing
Wearing the wrong clothes can open you up to injury too, so skinny jeans in the backyard simply won’t do. Instead, opt for loose-fitting clothing that will allow your body to bend, extend, pivot, and move naturally. In addition, make sure that you wear appropriate footwear. Shoes should be tied firm, sturdy, and have non-slip soles. Many who wear flip flops this time of year to “work” in the yard, find themselves in for treatment of foot pain from strained plantar fascia or arch sprains. These can be some of the most debilitating things to deal with.
Bend at the Knee & Hip
Honor your body by bending the knee or hip, and not your back. Your leg muscles are much stronger than your lower back muscles and are meant to withstand frequent bending. Therefore, always remember to use your knees & hips when lifting or bending over to work in the garden. In addition, step in the direction you are raking, instead of twisting through your waist which will strain your lower back. When down in the garden, place one hand on your thigh or the ground for support while the other arm works.
Alternate Right & Left Arm Side to Avoid Repetition and Strain
Most people favor one side of the body when pulling weeds, digging in the dirt, or whatever else your arms do in the yard. However, repetitive work on one side will cause an imbalance and inevitable strain, potentially impacting hands, forearms, biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Instead, put your arms on a literal schedule, switching from right to left and left to right through each unique activity. If pulling weeds for 10-minutes, allow 5 minutes for each side. If raking for 20-minutes, allow 10-minutes for each side, and so forth. You get the idea (set a timer to beep on your phone).
Stop Moving Small Parts to Avoid Pruner’s Elbow
You’re familiar with tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, but what about pruner’s elbow? Many people get elbow, wrist, and hand strain in the yard because they are working ‘small parts’. Operating pruners should not be done through effort below the elbow alone. Instead, cultivate a more body-regional approach to pruning, and all other yard work for that matter. Start by focusing on your arm as being an unbroken line between the forearm and the hand. If you bend your wrist forward or back or tilt it to one side when pruning, you may strain the muscles that are keeping them in each respective position. By keeping an unbroken line along your forearm and hand, you adequately distribute effort along the line and avoid straining one particular zone. Also, note that this unbroken line extends even further. Your arm is connected to your shoulder. By becoming more aware of the connection from your hands all the way up to your shoulders, you can develop a more body-regional approach to pruning (etc.). By bringing your shoulders into the effort (set them back), you will properly redistribute the weight across your arms, forearms, wrists, and fingers, keeping pruner’s elbow (and other potential ailments) at bay.
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 to the garden this spring? Contact Collegiate Sports Medicine today and we’ll get you back in the backyard before it gets away from you.
By Melanie Tuck Certified Athletic Therapist (Collegiate Sports Medicine, Red Deer AB)