Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
Climate change is real, and it is already upon us. We call it “Fall,” of course, the first day of which has officially happened. Since it is still near 90 degrees outside, you may not have noticed.
Soon, however, actual climate change will be here indeed with cooler, crispy morning air. The leaves will turn exciting colors and begin to fall in larger numbers. Christmas items will appear in many stores before October is here. And, of course, Alabama will remain undefeated. These are signs that Fall has come around again.
As leaves cover and decorate our lawns, many of us will feel honor-bound to do something about it. I once gave this some serious thought as leaves covered our own grass at home. My thinking encompassed some theology as well as botany. It went like this: only God can make a tree; trees make leaves; leaves are jettisoned by the trees when the time is right. Gravity and wind, also under control of an omnipotent God, determine the ultimate placement of those leaves. Thus, God Himself put those leaves on the ground. And who am I to thwart His purpose?
So I did not rake the yard. I not only saved considerable energy, but I felt like I was on pretty solid ground both botanically and theologically. I watched Alabama football games instead.
If you are unable or unwilling to make the leap of logic that I just did, though, and feel compelled to get out and rake leaves this Fall, this article is for you.
One of the parts of your body that is most vulnerable to injury is your lumbar spine, or low back. The intervertebral discs that hold your spine together are designed to last a lifetime, but two actions, particularly when taken together, may lead to injury. These are flexion, or bending over, and rotation, or twisting to the side. You will recognize that both of these are involved in raking. See where I’m going here?
It happens every year as a result of climate change. Folks go out to rake the yard and experience immediate or delayed back pain. Especially when it radiates down a leg, it’s time to back off the exercise and get it checked out.
There are alternatives to raking injuries if you are prone to this ailment. First, you can hire my landscaper. She is excellent and reasonable, and I’ll be glad to furnish her number for you upon request.
Second, you can wait for the wind to do its work. Maybe it’s too soon after Irma to foist humor upon the wind, but it is effective. Unfortunately, as the wind blows your leaves off your yard, it may just as easily replace them with your neighbor’s leaves. It may really be hard to know that anything has changed.
Third, you can accomplish the task with a leaf blower. Either a gas or electric blower will do the trick, but if it is the type you wear on your back, be sure you wear it like a back pack. Carrying a blower on one shoulder can stress your spine with the uneven weight, so use one with two shoulder straps. Wear it high on your back to put the weight on your hips, which are designed to take that stress.
If you do experience back pain with yard work, rest for a while. Try walking and moving around to see if the pain diminishes with motion. If it does, you may well have a muscle strain. Use ice or a gel pack for twenty minutes at a time. Anything with camphor or menthol may help. Judicious use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) may help.
If that does not do the trick, or if you have any radiating leg pain, seek help from someone who specializes in musculoskeletal diagnosis. If you have increased leg or back pain with a cough or sneeze, you may have a disc injury, and you will need some help.
How does help look? Well, everything starts in your chiropractor’s office with a thorough history of the problem and other health conditions. A physical exam will look at the orthopedic and neurological signs and symptoms. Imaging may be necessary to examine structures in the spine and extremities. All that together help us to make a specific diagnosis.
Armed with an understanding of the problem, we can bring a number of forces to bear on the issue. Scientific studies tell us that spinal manipulation and/or spinal decompression are most frequently the treatments off choice. We can augment those with a variety of physiotherapeutic approaches, including ultrasound, various electrotherapies, cryotherapy, lasers, and active care (exercises). The vast majority of people improve dramatically at that point. The few who do not may require further diagnostic work referral, or co-management with another provider.
Of course, while you are under care, your leaves are piling up. My landscaper looks like a good option for you now.
As climate change manifests itself soon, you’ll see the leaves, and you’ll be tempted. If you are already hurting, call me, and “leaf” well enough alone.