Another beautiful spring in New England, and you’ve once again ordered a few cubic yards of mulch to spruce things up. Along with mulch, your garden first has to be weeded and clipped, and there is always some raking involved. When you put in a garden, rototilling and planting need to be done.
As a working homeowner, these are just a few of the tasks you try to squeeze into a busy schedule, and sometimes the desire to get things done overshadows common sense. The increased physical activity of spring often uses muscles and positions that your body grew unaccustomed to after a long winter’s rest. These are just a few reasons why physical therapists see more strain types of injuries at this time of year. Here are a few tips to help you avoid injury.
First, anytime you do an extended repetitive activity, such as shoveling or raking, switch sides often. If you are very one-hand dominant, it may feel awkward at first, but with practice, it soon feels more natural. When shoveling, bend your knees as you scoop a shovel load, and straighten them to lift up. Not only does this avoid unnecessary stress on your back, it is also a great way to build up your gluteals (buttocks muscles).
When you weed or plant, avoid prolonged positions such as bending over at the waist. If your back feels stiff when you straighten up, it is warning that you may not have the needed stability to tolerate this position. Ignoring these signs leaves your back vulnerable to injury. Instead, straighten up often and stretch backwards, which allows your hip flexors (muscles that cross the front of your leg where it attaches to your body) to regain their normal length. If you stand on a slope, make sure you move to level ground before you stretch.
Still feel sore? Do a few pelvic tilts. As always, check with your doctor before doing this or any exercise. To do a pelvic tilt, lie on your back, bend your knees, place your feet flat on the ground, contract your stomach muscles, and flatten your back. This will help stretch your back muscles and loosen the lumbosacral junction (a site in the low back where the spine rests on the pelvis).
Heeding warning signs is very important. You may overdo things when these signs are masked by anti-inflammatory medications or when you drink an alcohol beverage. We often have patients tell us that they were working hard and never felt problems until they couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. When we questioned further, it becomes evident that their body’s warning signs were concealed by medication or alcohol.
Remember, pace yourself. Everything that needs to get done usually does get done. Injuring yourself in the process only puts you further behind. Enjoy your household chores, and sensibly give your body a chance to function properly.