Playing it Safe in the Yard

Yard work safety performed by a squirrel

Fall and winter is a great time to hurt your back slaving away in your field of dreams. The problem with yard work is two-fold. One, the yard, for the most part, is on the ground which is a long way from your spine. Two, the yard is full of heavy things that must be picked up, carried and dumped which typically involves the dreaded BLT of back injuries. Bending, lifting and twisting. Combining these two problems can be risky, but follow these simple rules and stay clear of a major mishap.

Keep a neutral spine

Injuries most commonly occur not from lifting but from poor positioning of the spine during lifting or repetitive bending.  Keep a tall spine while hinging at the hips and knees instead of bending (rounding) at the spine.

Twist at the hips and mid back not the lower back

Repetitive rotation of the lower back leads to break down of the intervertebral disk (the cushion between the vertebrae of the spine). Rotation of the midback is close to 50 degrees (twelve vertebrae with 6 degrees of motion between each) while that of the lower back is 15 degrees meaning that much more motion is available in the middle back. The hip joints are a ball and socket joint designed for great amounts of movement. Rotate through the hips and midback by always pointing the belly button towards where you’re going.

Avoid prolonged flexion (forward bending) of the spine.

Bending under load kills the disks. Even if you’re not lifting anything you are still lifting the trunk which is approximately 60% of your body weight. Utilize safer spine positions of kneeling, half-kneeling, and squatting to prevent overloading of the spine. Sitting on a short stool is acceptable as long as the spine is tall and spinal curves are maintained. Hinge at the hips to avoid overload.

Lack of endurance is main risk factor for back injury.

The spinal stabilizing muscles are often weak, particularly if you live a sedentary lifestyle. Keep sessions in the yard relatively short, allowing these muscles to adequately recover so that they can support the spine to avoid injury. Work in one-hour windows with a good break in between. Perform microbreaks to stretch and mobilize the spine.

Delegate/hire out

You never want to be caught on the wrong end of a shovel. Because the load during shoveling is so far from the spine, the risk of injury is very high. To make it worse, there is usually a rotation/twist involved further stressing the lower back. Hire the kids or consider hiring someone to help out. If you must shovel or rake, go for short periods and alternate sides to create balance and provide rest.

Fall is a great time of year to enjoy the changing colors and seasons. Work smart so that when winter hits, you’re up on the slopes and not in our office with a back injury.

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