Yardwork & Injury Prevention
Finally, after that long, cold winter - here comes the sunshine and warm weather….and begrudgingly, also out comes the “Honey-Do” List… Whether it be starting on your yardwork or gardening, talking to a physiotherapist (and/or at least reading this blog!) can help prevent repetitive stress injuries (such as tennis elbow or low back pain) that would likely put a serious kibosh on your spring plans.
Just like it’s important to prepare your garden for the seeds & plants by rototilling the soil, it’s important to prep your body before doing any yardwork to prevent injuries!
Here’s the DIRT on injury prevention:
Sunshine – just like a plant needs the sun’s warm rays to stimulate growth, our bodies need to WARM-UP before starting vigorous activities.
This gives the nervous system time to re-route your blood from your inner organs and move it out into the muscles of your arms, legs, and back, physically warming the tissues (1). Simply stretching for your ‘warm-up’ has recently fallen out of favour (2). Instead it’s recommended that you perform light dynamic motions similar to your upcoming activity (eg. when you see an MMA fighter ‘shadow-boxing’ before the match or a sprinter performing medium-fast, short runs before the big event) (3). These types of light, dynamic movements aren’t only for athletes. They’re for everyone, as they also help ‘prime the pump’ neurally speaking and help the ‘wires’ (ie. nerves) turn on the muscles more effectively, thereby improving performance (3). An example of an appropriate warm-up exercise for a day full of pushing wheelbarrows & hoisting bags of mulch, would be performing a few minutes each of light squatting, deadlifts, and bent-over-rows. Talk to your physio about an individualized warm-up exercise program based on your yardwork plans and needs!
Water – just like plants need water breaks on a regular basis – so do humans!!
Taking regular breaks is important for injury prevention and may actually allow you to work longer and do more in the long-run (4). This allows your body to recover and prevents fatigue (and may help stop you from doing careless things like dropping tools on your foot or making a misjudgment about your current capacity – such as lifting too heavy a bag of fertilizer).
What you do during your break is up to you. It could be simply sitting and enjoying the sounds of nature for a few minutes or providing a change of position or activity (ie. taking a break from carting wheelbarrows of soil to sitting and doing 5 minutes of weeding). Changing your activity can allow one part of your body to recover, while still being productive and working out a different part of your body!
And speaking of water, it’s important to keep hydrated before, during, and after your yard-work and gardening (5). This will become more crucial as the heat of summer approaches, since we lose water through sweating as well as through the mere act of breathing (6)! Exactly how much to drink depends on your age, gender, level of physical activity, and how hot/humid it is (7)! (See the Dieticians of Canada’s webpage: Unlock Food.ca for more details.) Keeping your body hydrated keeps the cartilage in your joints more plump, improving their ability to cushion the joint as well as help manage your blood pressure (7).
Fertilizer – Here’s the real scoop. Plants can grow “okay” in typical soil, but with regular doses of fertilizer (which includes nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium = the macronutrients that plants thrive on) they tend to grow faster, more abundantly, and are hardier/stronger (8,9).
Muscles and tendons in humans also need regular “input” or “stress”. The phrase “use it or lose it” definitely applies. The human body is not a machine. It is a living, breathing organism and will adapt to the types of forces and stresses it gets exposed to (10). Such as when working out at a gym, muscles will be stimulated to grow bigger and stronger and tendons will become more ‘springy’ (becoming better at energy storage), thereby increasing your strength, endurance, and even power (10,11)!
Without regular “fertilizer” or exercise “input” to your body (such as becoming less physically active, especially after a long, cold, housebound winter), these tissues become weaker and will have lost some of their capacity (10).
What I commonly see as a physiotherapist in the spring is those who have done “too much, too soon” after doing “too little for too long”. They have to rehabilitate a tendinopathy or lower back pain (which can take 4-12 weeks depending on the severity), which further delays getting started on that “Honey-Do” list.
Hindsight is of course 20-20. Ideally it would have been better to start a strengthening program last winter. However, we can work with you on an injury prevention program that will get your muscles, tendons, and joints ready for your upcoming gardening/yardwork season!
Tools – Having the right equipment for the job can make it physically easier on your body. For example, using a tool specifically designed for rototilling (such as a turn tiller or spade fork) allows you to stay in a more upright posture and use less force to dig the tines into the soil (making it easier on your lower back) compared to a shovel.
There are many tools with specialized handles on the market that make it more comfortable, require less gripping force, and allow your wrist to work in a more neutral position, which may help lessen the onset of elbow tendinopathies and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Also, ensuring that your tools are in good shape (such as sharpening or replacing blades so they cut with less force) makes your job easier!
Let us help you make your “Honey-Do” list into a “Honey-Done!” list.
For more information about injury prevention and/or help making an exercise plan that is right for you, contact InReach Physio.
By: Susan Herdman, Registered Physiotherapist
Book a telephysio / online physio / virtual physio / video physiotherapy appointment with a registered physiotherapist in British Columbia. InReach Online Physio services communities in northern and rural BC, such as Masset, Queen Charlotte, Fraser Lake, Fort Nelson, Fort St James, Dease Lake, Fort St John, Dawson Creek, the Gulf Islands, and more!
McGowan CJ, Pyne DB, Thompson KG, & Rattray B. (2015 Sep 23) Warm-up strategies for sport and exercise: Mechanisms and applications. Springer: Sports Med DOI 10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282153814_Warm-Up_Strategies_for_Sport_and_Exercise_Mechanisms_and_Applications
Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, & McHugh M. (2015 Dec 8) Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. Vol 41, No 1, Jan 2016. Pg 1-11. Accessed Apr 17/22:https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/apnm-2015-0235?journalCode=apnm#supplementary-material
Herman K, Barton C, Malliaras P, Morrissey D. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Med. 2012 Jul 19;10:75. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-75. PMID: 22812375; PMCID: PMC3408383. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408383/#
Sherrard J, Lenné M, Cassell E, Stokes M, Ozanne-Smith J. Injury prevention during physical activity in the Australian Defence Force. J Sci Med Sport. 2004 Mar;7(1):106-17. doi: 10.1016/s1440-2440(04)80049-5. PMID: 15139170. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15139170/
Healthwise Staff – HealthLink BC (w Medical Review by MDs: AC Poinier, BD O’Brien,. K Romito, et al.). (2020 Apr 15) Website: Home/More/Aging Well / “Healthy Aging”. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/more/aging-well/healthy-aging
Government of Canada – Canada’s Food Guide (2021-Jan 26). Webpage: Health/Food and nutrition/ Canada’s food guide/ Healthy eating recommendations/ “Make water your drink of choice”. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/make-water-your-drink-of-choice/
Dieticians of Canada – UnlockFood.ca (2021 Oct 25). Website: Home/Articles/Water/ “Facts on Fluids – How to Stay Hydrated”. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Water/Facts-on-Fluids-How-to-Stay-Hydrated.aspx
HowStuffWorks.com. (2000 Apr 1) Website: “What is fertilizer and why do plants need it?”. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://home.howstuffworks.com/question181.htm
Ryhom – Julani. (2021 Nov 27). Website: Why do plants need fertilizer? – The secrets to a successful garden. Accessed Apr 17/22: https://ryhom.com/gardening/plant-needs/why-plants-need-fertilizers/
Brooks, GA, Fahey TD, & Baldwin KM (2005). In Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications 4th Ed – Chapter 20: Muscle Strength, Power, and Flexibility (p 456-491). McGraw Hill, New York, NY.
Cook JL, Purdam CR. Is tendon pathology a continuum? A pathology model to explain the clinical presentation of load-induced tendinopathy. Br J Sports Med. 2009 Jun;43(6):409-16. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051193. Epub 2008 Sep 23. Accessed Apr 18/22: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/43/6/409.long
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