Autumn in New England is beautiful. Fall foliage also marks the start of a shift in outdoor chores. Grass mowing winds down and leaf raking begins, especially if your house is shaded by tall trees from the hot summer sun.
This is also the time of year when physical therapy clinics see an increase in shoulder, rib cage and back injuries from sustained yard work. Raking tends to be the Number 1 culprit. The typical action of raking tends to expose and worsen any existing rib and trunk tightness because of the way your body twists when your feet are planted. Most people also favor one side when they rake, causing the muscles on one side of the body to work harder. When you rake acorns, pine needles or thatch, you also push down on the rake as you twist. This can add up to rib catches, shoulder blade soreness and back stiffness.
Usually, a hot dip in a hot tub or a hot bath and gentle stretches will ease the stiffness, but a change in raking technique may make a bigger difference. Try pulling the rake toward you with your arms, and moving your feet backwards while you pull. This prevents much of the twisting motion at your spine. Also, try switching sides often, even though it may seem awkward.
A better solution may be to buy or rent a leaf blower. The popularity of this equipment has increased dramatically because of its effectiveness.
A second fall chore is general yard cleanup. Putting hoses away, emptying pots containing frozen annuals, and putting away other items reminiscent of summer days can be time consuming. These chores are usually done under time and weather constraints, and without planning. Timing these activities with an Indian Summer weekend is the hope of every homeowner but it is all in the luck of the draw. Children are recruited to help with fall yard work and usually every bit of daylight is needed to get things tucked away for winter.
A couple of simple tips may help. First, use a wheelbarrow whenever possible. This handy item is great for moving pots, hoses or wood. It is important, however, to make sure that the tire on the wheelbarrow is properly inflated.
Next, don’t overdo it. Pace yourself. Injuries usually occur when you get tired and your judgment suffers. We see a lot of injuries resulting from falls from ladders, and from not taking a few moments to reposition the ladder so it makes a safe reach.
If you pack all your outdoor things away in a shed, plan so that retrieving items you may use during the holidays or in the spring will be readily accessible.
Lastly, as Thanksgiving approaches, a little known fact is that every year there are “turkey injuries.” These involve lifting heavy turkeys into and out of an oven. The biomechanics of awkwardly reaching forward into the oven and trying not to burn yourself lend themselves to back injuries. The solution, if you’re cooking a big bird, is to use two people, one on each side of the pan.