Whether you’re mowing the lawn, gardening, raking or weeding, yard work can lead to back pain. And if you’re not careful, a long day in the yard can take a toll on your body, especially your back and spine.
That’s because the way we do everyday things like yard work put stress on our bodies. A wrong move can cause a new injury. Plus, improper body mechanics like the way you lift and twist can speed up wear and tear on your spine, which is a common cause of chronic back pain. And if you already deal with chronic back pain, these outdoor activities can lead to a flare up – so you may end up avoiding them.
Many of the patients I work with at TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program, formerly known as the Physicians Neck and Back Center (PNBC), suffer from acute and chronic back pain, and physical activity is key to avoiding and managing low back pain flare ups. Yard work can be a great way to stay active if you follow a few key tips:
Warm up before heading outside
Take five to 10 minutes to warm up prior to jumping into gardening or yard work. I recommend a short walk followed by a few minutes of stretching your low back, arms and legs.
Get down on one knee
No, not to propose. But if you’re planting or weeding, instead of being on both knees, try having one leg up to stabilize your low back.
You can also use the side-sitting position to decrease stress on your lower back, or consider using a pad for support or a small stool to sit on.
With any of these, try to avoid rounding your low back. Focus on keeping a neutral spine – not an arched one.
Pivot, don’t twist
Pivoting your body is always the best option. That means moving your feet and hips in the same direction as your upper body, instead of keeping them planted and twisting at the spine. If twisting is unavoidable, make sure to engage your core by pulling your belly button in toward your spine as you move.
Shuffle as you rake
Bend your knees, not your waist
When picking up heavier objects, such as large bags of leaves, sticks or weeds, squat down by bending at your knees, not your waist. Also practice good lifting habits by keeping heavy things close to your body. And if you have a lot of material to haul (rocks, mulch, etc.), use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to help.
Give yourself a break
With all of these tasks, it’s important to change positions and take frequent breaks. Rotate between tasks as you go to avoid putting too much stress on one part of your body. For example, instead of raking, weeding and then pruning for an hour each, rake for 20 minutes, then weed for 20 minutes, then prune for 20 minutes. Take a short break between each task, and then restart the circuit. It’s also a good idea to stretch and ice your low back once you’re finished.
Around 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t have to hold you back from doing what you love. My final tip is to ask for help! The more you can divide up the work, the less stress you’ll put on your spine – and the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy your beautiful lawn or garden!