Manning Wellness Clinic’s Top 5 Tips for Avoiding Weekend Gardener Syndrome

Spring has sprung! Warmer weather brings visions of homeowners manning the bbq, napping in their hammocks, and enjoying their backyard paradise, the one that has collected piles of leaves, sprouting weeds, dead branches and debris over the winter months. With fervent vigor, the weekend garden warriors head outside and attack their yards. Frequently, injuries result as muscles long-dormant during the winter months experience much more activity in a brief period of time than usual.  Since the height of muscle pain typically sets in about 36 hours after strenuous activity, our office phone starts ringing first thing Monday morning. As we all know, it’s hard to sit immobile at a desk all day when your lower back (or neck, shoulders, knees, etc.) are screaming in pain. Your backyard may look amazing, but your back may pay the price.

Here are the Top 5 Tips for Avoiding Weekend Gardener Syndrome from Dr. Jeff Manning of Manning Wellness Clinic in Dallas: 

1.    Bend your knees: Weeding, one of the most labor-intensive outdoor jobs, is responsible for more low-back injuries than almost any other springtime activity. Repeatedly pulling at stubborn weeds fatigues the lumbar muscles and can strain ligaments and discs. With your back in an already compromised, bent-forward position, and your legs likely straight, one good yank at a tough weed may be enough to bulge a disc or misalign your pelvic bones. A half-kneeling position, or better yet, a narrow blade shovel, is a much safer/easier way to deal with weeds.

2.    Avoid Heavy Lifting: Moving lawn and patio furniture, hauling bags of mulch or seed, planting new shrubs…often requires heavy lifting. Whenever possible, grab an extra set of hands to help with awkward or heavy items. Or pull out the trusty wheelbarrow or hand trolley. If you must lift, don’t forget to bend your knees, and keep the load as close as possible to your core, to take some pressure off of your lower back.

3.   Pace yourself: Your yard does not need to be completed in a day! Breaking up the planting into small increments minimizes your risk of injury and maximizes your chance of a gorgeous garden. Hours of planting increases your risk of strained muscles, ligaments or other tissues. When a muscle becomes fatigued, its ability to stabilize a joint or create enough force to accomplish a routine task diminishes considerably. Raking is a perfect example since it requires you use large, postural muscles in your back. Tip: Take it slow and steady, and make sure to switch sides frequently so that you try to work your body evenly on both sides. Many injuries result from overly tired muscles. Listen to your body; if it’s telling you that it’s getting tired and something is starting to hurt, stop! Your body is communicating that it needs a break and if you don’t listen, it will just yell louder. By changing activities every 30 minutes, repetitive strain risk is decreased.

4.   Don’t trim what you can’t reach: Pruning hedges with heavy sheers is an easy way to acquire rotator cuff tendonitis. It also puts your back at risk for injury. Over extending your arm with a heavy object in your hand is a quick recipe for a tendon injury. When trimming back bushes, keep the sheers close to your body and try to keep your shoulders at or below ninety degrees of elevation. This position protects the delicate rotator cuff from tearing and also protects your back.

5.   Use the right tools for the job: Just like buying the right gear for an exercise program, buying the right tools for yard work can be just as important. Some better rakes and shovels are ergonomically designed so they better fit your body. Make sure your hand fits comfortably on the handle to avoid blisters and wrist strain.  Also look for rakes and shovels which you can comfortably manage rather. Lastly, use the right tool for the job: Don’t try to use a snow shovel to dig a hole for a shrub.