Spring is in our New England air, so let’s emerge from hibernation and enjoy the sunny warmth of the season’s early days. You may have a host of outside chores to do, usually under the pressure of time and with the cooperation of weather. By mid-May many gardening weekend warriors have worn out the forgiveness in their spines. For some tips on saving those back muscles from strain, read on.
First and foremost, take a look at your yard work shoes. If you are like most people your oldest and most comfortable shoes have become relegated to the function of outdoor work and garden shoes. While this isn’t bad in and of itself, you need to make sure that your shoes haven’t been worn so much that they have lost their support.
Here’s a quick, easy test to reveal whether your shoes should be permanently retired: Put both left and right shoe next to each other on a counter top so you see the back of each; position yourself so they are just below eye level. If the shoe has a vertical seam running between the top of the back of the shoe and the heel, check whether the seam is straight up and down. Now look on either side of the seam. You should see equal bowing of the material on each side of the seam. (If you tend to pronate, which is a position of the foot in which the arch is flattened, the shoe usually looks like it is bulging on the inner side.)
Lastly, see if the heel is worn down on one side. If you find any of these deformities, toss the shoes away. Don’t wear them, even for garden chores. The reason is that you need good, balanced support from your shoes especially when you do increased physical activity.
Buy a good pair of supportive shoes just for working in the yard. If you use your foot to push down on a shovel, as in turning over soil, wear heavy soled shoes so you won’t irritate the under surface of your foot.
Now to those outdoor chores……..Let’s start with the trees or large branches that broke under the pressure of snow and ice. For clearing, cut them into small, manageable pieces. Try to avoid dragging them through obstacles that can catch them because a sudden unexpected backward jerk can easily wrench your back.
Next, if you use a wheelbarrow to move heavy loads of loam, mulch or debris, remember to balance the load evenly. Check the tire pressure; a soft tire increases your workload considerably. If, for whatever reason, the wheelbarrow starts to tip and you lose control of an uneven load, don’t try to right it. The leverage in controlling the side-to-side sway in a wheelbarrow is awkward, especially if the load is leaning one way. It is much easier to pick up the mess after it falls, and re- balance the load.
Raking is another of the toughest jobs on your body, especially in Spring. Bearing down hard on a rake to pull up thatch, wet leaves or areas of snow mold can add compression to the torquing action of raking. Take frequent breaks and try not to twist. Use your arms, not your back.
When working in flowerbeds, squat, sit or kneel. Don’t stay in a bent over position. This puts your back at significant risk. If you have tweaked your back, resist the temptation to take a few anti-inflammatories or pain pills and keep on going. Instead, stop your task and do some stretching and back exercises.
Remember that an overzealous Spring gardener may limp into Summer for failing to heed the warning signs.