June 20, 2019
June is National Safety Month, and part of safety is the prevention of injuries. Although yardwork and gardening can really increase your home’s curb appeal, these activities can be taxing on your body. Listening to your body and taking the proper safety precautions are key to preventing injuries in the yard this summer.
Although gardening and yardwork may seem like hobbies, these activities are exercise. So, as with any exercise, you need to make sure your body is prepared for a workout. Before starting, make sure your muscles are warm and stretched. A walk around the yard, admiring your previous work or planning today’s activity, and a few light stretches of the legs, back, shoulders, and arms should do the trick. Also, make sure you stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before heading outside and make sure to have some water handy while you work, especially if it’s an exceptionally hot day.
While gardening and other yardwork is good exercise for the whole body, certain parts of the body, such as the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and back, tend to endure the bulk of the stress of tending to the flowers and vegetables, or wielding the hedge trimmers. Sometimes injuries occur suddenly, and are accompanied by noticeable pain and swelling. Other times, they come on gradually, after repeated work, and are much less obvious. Either way, there are things you can do to avoid these injuries.
Hands, wrists, and elbows:
Hands, wrists, and elbows are areas of the body that are especially susceptible to repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and golf elbow. Despite the name, you don’t have to spend a single day on the court or the course to develop tennis elbow or golf elbow. These injuries occur when the tendon near the elbow is overused over a period, resulting in pain and swelling. And unfortunately, they are common injuries in gardeners. To avoid RSIs:
Change your task every 15 minutes. Alternating between digging, trimming trees and hedges, pulling weeds, raking and hoeing, watering, and pruning will give your muscles and tendons enough rest to avoid damage.
Pain is your body’s way of telling you to take a break. So listen to your body; chances are there is a reason for the pain.
You may be tempted to spend the entire day tackling that yard project, but remember, your body needs a break. Plan your week out, with several yardwork sessions throughout the week instead of one all-day chore. Taking an hour or two at the end of each day to enjoy working at your own pace will be much more gratifying than feeling the pressure to weed, prune, plant, and pick just to get the job done.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 80 percent of adults will experience lower back pain at some time in their lives. Although gardening and yardwork is especially hard on the back, there are steps you can take to prevent back pain and injuries:
Prepare your area before you settle in. Have your tools, kneeling pad, water bottle, ladder, and work area within arms-reach to avoid back-straining movements. Reaching, bending, turning, and getting up and down frequently can wreak havoc on your back, and oftentimes you won’t notice until the damage is done.
When you need to lift or move heavy objects, squat, bend your knees, and lift with your leg muscles. Keep the object close to your center of gravity and ask for help if it’s too heavy. If you need to move it, use a cart or a wheelbarrow.
Keep your work in front of you. Twisting your body causes strain on the muscles and ligaments surrounding your spine, which can result in inflammation and pain. After you finish tending to your work area, stand up, stretch, take a drink of water, and move on to your next region, keeping it square in front of you.
The muscles in our neck are responsible for head movement and upper-body stabilization, so we need them to look up, down, back, and forth, or just simply to hold our head up. Because outdoor work ranges from tending to vegetable gardens at ground level to pruning trees high above, yardwork can be strenuous on the neck. To keep your neck injury-free:
We understand you need to tend to your beautiful hanging baskets and trim the branches on your trees. Sometimes you need to work at a level that is less-than-comfortable. But working at a level above your shoulders is more than uncomfortable, it’s hazardous to the health of your neck. Use a ladder to raise yourself to the level of your work area. If that’s not possible, limit over-shoulder level work to increments of five minutes at a time with stretching breaks in-between.
Just like prolonged periods of looking up can be harmful to your neck, looking down for extended lengths of time can also cause neck strain. Raised beds can help alleviate this issue by bringing your garden up to your level.
Gardening and yardwork are incredibly rewarding, and the goal is to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The best way to ensure that happens is to listen to your body, and don’t overdo it. Don’t be afraid to put the tools away until your muscles feel ready to work again. Instead, take a moment to relax in the shade, sipping some cold water and admiring the beauty you have created. To perfectly end the day, pamper your muscles with a nice, warm bath. Your body will thank you.