A Physiotherapists Guide: Safe Yard Work

With Springtime being as crazy as it has been with quarantine and social distancing, many people in Edmonton have been filling their time doing work around their yards.  With all this excitement to get out of the house and find something to do, the unbridled enthusiasm can leave many gardeners waking up with aches and pains the following day.  Even though yard work is a non-contact or low-impact activity, it is often the cause of pain or discomfort in our physical therapy patients.  We want to take the opportunity to discuss how to get back to your yard work symptom-free and provide ways to avoid digging up any new or old injuries.

Woman bent over with back pain
man with sore back from raking

Typical Aches and Pains from Yard Work

The most common issue we hear about from yard work is back pain, followed by the less common problem areas such as knees and hands.  It is no surprise that back pain is the biggest complaint given the repetitive tasks, sustained bending, frequent lifting and awkward positioning involved in this popular hobby.  Though uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on the joy of cleaning up your yard or watching your garden bloom this summer.  We’ve put together some strategies to keep you pain-free while doing yard work this Spring and Summer.

Safe lifting while doing yard work

A common cause of low back pain while doing yard work is poor lifting technique.  Whether you’re lugging new plants in from your car or carrying bags of fertilizer all around the yard, your primary focus should be maintaining safe body mechanics.  Here are five tips to keep your back safe while lifting outdoors:

  1. Start with a broad base of support– Stand with your feet at hip-width apart.  Closer or further away makes you more unstable.
  2. Squat down, bending at hips and knees, and keeping your back long– Your safest posture is to keep your spine in a neutral position.  Straight back, open chest, and shoulders back and down. Once you have established a stable base, lift slowly and avoid quick, jerky movements – Engage your core muscles by drawing your navel towards your spine to support your lower back.
  3. Bring the load as close to your body as possible– Minimize the force required to lift or carry the object.
  4. Slowly begin straightening your legs– Remember that your leg muscles are more powerful than your back, so be sure to generate force with your lower body.
  5. Avoid twisting or turning at the waist while carrying something heavy or awkward– If you need to change direction, use your feet rather than rotating through your spine.

Other Strategies to Keep You Pain-Free yard work this Spring & Summer:

Ease into yard work. We are all excited to get out of the house to take a mental break and do some yard work, but we need to do so patiently.   Gradually increase the time you spend working in the yard just as you would with any sport or activity you haven’t practiced in several months.  Start with 20-30 minutes of yard work and then slowly increase.  Don’t rush to finish all your yard work on the first possible weekend.

Take regular breaks and change positions frequently (every 10-15 minutes).  Have a rest or alternate between different gardening tasks.  Prolonged bending or awkward postures can fatigue lower back muscles and lead to back injuries.

Remember to get close to your yard work.  Make sure to kneel when planting or weeding.  You could try using a special gardening mat or using kneepads.  If you have knee or hip pain, avoid putting pressure on these areas by sitting on an upside-down bucket or gardening bench.  Consider using specialized gardening tools to prevent prolonged reaching.

Elevate your flower beds and containers.  By doing this, you can tend to them at a more comfortable height.  Raised garden beds or planter boxes reduce the amount of reaching, bending, and twisting required, which can all contribute to aches and pains.  Another option would be to plant a vertical garden or plant in pots.

Woman and young girl gardening

Book an Appointment Today!

Despite your best intentions, you may feel achy after a weekend in the garden.  Check in with your physiotherapist if you wake up sore and stiff from yard work.  After an assessment, they may suggest pain-relieving modalities such as electrotherapies, dry needling and manual therapy to reduce discomfort.  They can also recommend an individualized stretching and strengthening routine to complement your yard work activities.

For any questions or advice about back or body pain, contact one of our trained physiotherapists at Innovation Physical Therapy!