Proactive Information On Safe Ways To Clean Up The Yard

Posted on October 31, 2014

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Article written by: Jim Storhok DPT, ATC

I can’t believe how fast the summer has gone by, can you? As summer comes to a close we want to give you some proactive information on safe ways to clean up the yard. The leaves are falling, and as beautiful as the changing colors can be, it still means more yard work for most people.

We see many people here at Physical Therapy Specialists regarding neck and low back pain. As I have mentioned in other newsletters throughout the year, it is of paramount importance to be cognizant of our spinal positioning during activities, especially if we are lifting anything heavy from place to place or to and from the ground. There are stresses that are placed on the spine and injuries can occur if the spine is not held close to neutral, especially if there are extra stresses in play.

We typically don’t think about our back or neck position when we bend over.  The best way to bend forward through the low back is to do what is called a hip hinge. Pretend that you have a stick that is strapped to your back from the base of your head to your tailbone. If you were strapped to that stick and you had to pick something up from the floor, how would you do it? The only way to move forward without breaking the stick would be to do a hip hinge, which is bending forward through your hips by sticking your butt out. It is also a good idea to bend your knees somewhat, which will get you closer to the ground or whatever you are picking up off of the ground. Another important tip to remember is to “suck it in, don’t hold your breath”. In keeping your stomach muscles drawn in, you will increase the stability of your spine and decrease risk of irritating joints in your back or straining muscles. It is also important to lift with your legs. Whenever possible, squat down as much as your knees will tolerate and secure the bag of lawn clippings or leaves close to your body before standing up. The further the weight is away from your body when you lift, the more stress is placed on your low back muscles, and the higher risk of injury.

We typically don’t think about our back or neck position when we bend over.  The best way to bend forward through the low back is to do what is called a hip hinge. Pretend that you have a stick that is strapped to your back from the base of your head to your tailbone. If you were strapped to that stick and you had to pick something up from the floor, how would you do it? The only way to move forward without breaking the stick would be to do a hip hinge, which is bending forward through your hips by sticking your butt out. It is also a good idea to bend your knees somewhat, which will get you closer to the ground or whatever you are picking up off of the ground. Another important tip to remember is to “suck it in, don’t hold your breath”. In keeping your stomach muscles drawn in, you will increase the stability of your spine and decrease risk of irritating joints in your back or straining muscles. It is also important to lift with your legs. Whenever possible, squat down as much as your knees will tolerate and secure the bag of lawn clippings or leaves close to your body before standing up. The further the weight is away from your body when you lift, the more stress is placed on your low back muscles, and the higher risk of injury.

Another technique that works well is called a half kneel. In this technique, you go down on to one knee, secure the object close to your body, and then stand up. This is a better technique if your knees are tolerant of kneeling and you have enough leg strength to get back up. It may not be appropriate if you’ve had a joint replacement.

Also remember, an ongoing strengthening program is always beneficial to maintaining and improving functional strength for the upcoming yard cleanup season; and, as always, please consult with your treating physical therapist if you have any questions regarding these techniques or any other questions regarding spinal care or lifting techniques.