BY TARA WILSON, MSPT, OCS, CSCS – Physical Therapist at NRPT
Spring is just around the corner and you know what that means – time for cleaning out closets and getting back to yard work and gardening. After a dreary winter, you may be in a hurry to be more active and, as a result, you might just over do it and injure your back. Here are a few tips to make sure your good intentions don’t lead to a back injury.
Warm up and cool down. Don’t just dive into shampooing the carpets or pulling weeds. Warm up your body by walking for a few minutes and then performing a couple of standing exercises to loosen up your back.
For the first exercise, stand up straight and bend your knees slightly. Position your feet shoulder width apart and put your hands on your hips. Rotate your torso to your right while keeping your hips squared forward. Return to center and then rotate to your left. Complete 10 to 20 twists in each direction.
For the second exercise, get into the same starting posture as the first exercise and slowly march in place bringing your knees up toward your chest for a light pull in your gluteal muscles and low back. Complete 10 to 20 marches on each side.
Then, after you’ve finished for the day, perform a cool down. Walk for a few minutes and then perform the following stretches. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds comfortably. Repeat each stretch twice.
Pace yourself. You don’t need to clean the whole house or have all the flowers planted in one day. Take a break every 20 minutes to avoid prolonged postures and perform the warm up exercises as needed to keep your back and hips loose. Space out your tasks over the week or month so you don’t over do it.
Practice good body mechanics. Make sure you are using proper lifting technique when moving boxes or lifting heavy bags of planting soil. Before you lift something heavy make sure you start with your feet shoulder width apart, squat down (bending at the hips and knees only!), look straight ahead and keep your back straight, your chest out, and your shoulders back. Then, slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees and keeping your back straight. DO NOT twist as you lift. Be sure to keep the load close to your body as you carry it.
Also, always be aware of your back when you are reaching for objects higher up in the closet. Don’t over reach, don’t’ try to lift something too heavy, try to keep a neutral back and, if you need to, use a stool to help you reach what you need.
Activate your transverse abdominis. By contracting your deepest abdominal muscle you help create a natural brace to help stabilize your back. This is important when you are doing more aggressive activities like pulling weeds, carrying heavy boxes or vacuuming. To activate this muscle, try to contract your lower belly muscles by gently pulling your belly button toward your spine.
Remember – the most important thing you can do is listen to your body! If you start to experience back pain, STOP! If you push through the pain, you could end up seriously injuring your back. And having the worst looking yard on the block.