If you’re taking advantage
of having more time at home to finally tackle yard projects, make sure you they
don’t take you down the following week.
Yard work includes
uncomfortable positions, heavy lifting, and repetitive movements that can lead
to neck, back, wrist, and knee pain.
Lauren Zilke, doctor of physical therapy,
at Core Physical Therapy has suggestions to
keep you in top form and help you avoid overuse injuries.
Treat It Like a Workout
Before you start your
weekend project, be sure to warm up. Loading and unloading heavy materials,
bending and placing items into position, and digging are all moderate to
high-intensity activities, so treat them as such with a dynamic warm-up.
“Yard work really is a
workout,” Zilke said. “You wouldn’t go run a marathon without warming up, same
deal with yard work.”
If you’ll be pushing a lawn
mower, start with some walking lunges. If you’ll be raking, digging, shoveling,
or doing overhead work, warm up your shoulders by gently pulling one arm across
your body until you feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder. Then do some
twisting toe touches by reaching high with one arm then twisting and lowering
to touch your opposite toe with your hand. And switch sides.
Some squats with good form
will warm up the whole body and get you ready for lifting and working your
- Start with feet shoulder
- Push butt back as you bend
- Keep your chest up
- Push knees out slightly
Your squat technique is the
same you’ll want to use when lifting heavy items, so do a dozen or so without
added weight to get your body ready. This technique will remind you not to
round your back, which puts pressure on your spine and can lead to injury.
It also ensures that you’re
using your powerful glute and quadricep muscles, which can handle heavier loads
than your back (ouch!).
When it’s time to pick up
heavy items, always keep your feet, trunk and your heavy objects in line. The
item should be directly in font of you so you’re not twisting to pick it up.
Then keep the heavy load close to your body as you lift.
“A lot of yard work forces
you to be in awkward postures,” Zilke said. “Every half hour or so switch
activities or take a break.”
If you have a project
partner, you could trade off tasks. If you’re working solo, take breaks to
reset your body. You can even set an alarm to remind yourself.
Zilke also recommended
swallowing any pride and asking for help carrying heavy items. Being humble
might mean you don’t have to spend Monday morning at the physical therapist’s
Set Yourself Up for Success
Before starting on your
project, take a moment to set up your work area. You might be able to eliminate
some opportunities for injury, as Zilke learned from her own yard work
For example, if you’re
going to the hardware store to pick up heavy items like bags of top soil or
pavers, drive the hatchback or pick-up truck if you have one. That puts your
heavy load at hip level, so you don’t have to bend to retrieve items from a
See if you can unload the
vehicle as close to the worksite as possible, so you don’t have to carry heavy
items long distances like around the house.
Setting up a table with
your tools on it prevents you from having to bend over to pick them up off the
Don’t mistake gardening for a pain-free
activity. Gardening injuries put more people in the
hospital than rugby and skiing! Overuse injuries are common. Gardening can put
your back, wrists, and neck in uncomfortable positions. Similar to other yard
work, start with some gentle stretches. Don’t forget to give your wrists some
If you’re a regular
gardener, you might want to consider investing in some knee protection and
ergonomic gardening tools that keep your wrists in a neutral position.
Make sure to use proper
lifting technique when moving heavy pots or bags of soil. Don’t stay in
uncomfortable positions too long either. Switch tasks or take a break at least
every 30 minutes.
When You’re Done
Continue with that mindset
of yard work as a form of exercise. Rather than collapsing on the couch, cool
down a bit with a little walk and some stretches.
“Your body does need to
come back to baseline,” Zilke explained.
Just like when you’re
working out, expect to have some muscle soreness the days after heavy lifting
or challenging yard work. Some soreness is OK, but if you experience sharp
pain, call your doctor or physical therapist.
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