Question: Now that summer is here, my husband is working a lot outside on the yard, where he hurts himself every year. Can you give us some tips so that I can keep him out of a doctor's office?
Sometimes when business is slow at the clinic, we look toward warm weather hopefully because we know that someone like your husband is going to need us. Seriously, our business at the clinic is somewhat seasonal for that reason.
The equipment available today for lawn and leaf management may turn the average homeowner into a lawn specialist overnight, but the use of weed trimmers, leaf blowers and hedge clippers can also send aspiring landscapers to their local chiropractor. I think this is especially true early in the season when so many who are working in our yard have been on the sofa sense the beginning of football season last fall.
The use of many lawn tools can result in back and neck pain, as well as more serious muscular strains and tears if not used properly. Many of these instruments involve repetitive motion that can be hard on joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Here are some thoughts that might keep your husband out of trouble.
Safely Using Outdoor Equipment
• Regardless of what piece of equipment you are using, make sure it has a strap—and that you use it. Place the strap over your head on the shoulder on the opposite side of your body from the device. This will help normalize your center of gravity and make you feel more stable. The heavier the piece of equipment is, the wider the strap should be to distribute the weight evenly across the shoulder.
• Be sure to switch the side on which you are operating the equipment as often as possible, and to balance the muscles being used, alternate your stance and motion frequently. This will help to negate the repetitive motion aspect of what you're doing, or at least to spread the pain around evenly.
• Take frequent breaks. Personally, this is not a problem for me when I am doing yard work. I might take a break that lasts several weeks.
• Consider electric-powered items, especially if you experience back or neck pain, as they tend to be lighter than their engine-powered counterparts. Additionally, you won't strain yourself pulling on a starter rope.
• When picking up or putting down your equipment, be sure to bend from the knees, not at the waist. Keep the object close to your body as you lift, not at arm's length.
Before stretching, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Breathe in and out slowly throughout each stretching exercise until the muscle is stretched to its furthest point. At that point, hold your breath in. When you relax, breathe out. Stretch gently and smoothly. Don't bounce or jerk your body in any way and stretch as far as you can comfortably. If you feel pain, back off a bit.
• Stand up and prop your heel on a back door step or stool with your knee slightly bent. Bend forward until you feel a slight pull at the back of the thigh, called the hamstring. You may need to stabilize yourself by holding onto a garage door handle. Hold the position
for 20 seconds, then relax. Do it once more, then repeat with the other leg.
• Stand up and put your right hand against a wall or other stable surface. Bend your left knee and grab your ankle with your left hand. Pull your heel toward your buttocks to stretch the quadricep muscle at the front of your thigh. Hold the position for 20 seconds, relax and do it again. Repeat with the other leg.
• Weave your fingers together above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds to stretch the side of your upper body, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.
• "Hug your best friend": Wrap your arms around yourself after letting your breath out and rotate to one side, as far as you can go. Hold it for 10 seconds. Then reverse. Repeat two or three times.
The weather is getting warmer here in Griffin. Drink a lot of water before you go outside, and take some with you. This is especially true if you are a senior because your thirst mechanism may not work as well as it did when you were younger, and you may not realize how much water you have lost to sweat. I would use the sports drinks only in moderation because some of them have sugar and extra electrolytes that are good for you in the right amounts, but some of those ingredients may not work in your best interest in large doses.
Of course, husbands can be stubborn. If yours overdoes it, give us a call. We'll leave the light on for him.
Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC