The change of seasons means a lot of different things to people. Fall means cooler weather, shorter days, pumpkin spice everything, and a new set of chores: yard cleanup. Fall foliage is beautiful, but it does need a lot of upkeep. All of that lifting, bending, and twisting can lead to injury if you’re not mindful of your body mechanics. Here are some tips to get your yard clean and ready for the winter while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum:
Outdoor Chore Basics
- Start with some light stretching – you probably don’t think about doing stretches when it comes to household chores, but doing some basic stretches before you start will help keep you loose and prevent muscle strains.
- Stay hydrated – we all know to drink plenty of water when you are under the hot sun. You wouldn’t think you’d be dehydrated in cooler weather, but, in cooler weather you’ll often be wearing layers while you work, which builds up body heat and leads you to sweat. Be sure you’re replacing those body fluids to reduce the risk of muscle cramps.
- Break it up and pace yourself – it’s tempting to try and tackle all your outdoor chores at once so that you can relax later, but, the more tired you get, the less careful and aware of your body mechanics you become. Your mind is on finishing, not your form. Don’t do too much of any one activity at a time. Don’t try to do them all in one day. Plan to take breaks.
- Keep an eye on the weather – don’t try to power through a rainy day. Wet leaves and muddy ground make it more difficult for you to keep your footing or hold a ladder steady. It’s easy to slip and fall on wet foliage. Sprain an ankle, you won’t be able to do fun fall activities, like apple picking!
Cleaning Up Leaves
- Be aware of your positioning – you want your feet to have a wide base for balance. Keep things close to you and don’t overreach. And certainly DON’T bend at the waist.
- Avoid any twisting motions.
- Rake several small piles of leaves instead of one big pile.
- Bend from the knees, not from the waist or back when lifting leaves into the garbage pail.
- Don’t let the garbage bag or pail get too full or too heavy to lift or move. Make several smaller bags instead. Test the weight of the bags to ensure you are comfortable lifting that weight. If not, ask for help. Keep the bags close to your body when carrying them. A few extra garbage bags will cost less than a doctor visit.
Clearing Out the Gutters on Your House
- Your ladder should be stable on solid ground, not soft mud where it can slip or slide.
- Try not to overreach or lean off to one side. Stay within an arm’s length so you don’t lose balance and fall. This also ensures you don’t put too much strain on your shoulders and neck.
- Think about where you’re sitting or kneeling and what’s around you – will you be able to get back up? If you normally have a hard time getting up from seated or low positions, bring something out that you can lean on for support, like a cane, sturdy chair, or stool. And keep it close to you – won’t do you any good if it’s beyond arm’s reach.
- If you are digging things up, again, keep things close to you. And take repeated breaks – staying in a bent position for long periods may lead to stiff muscles and difficulty getting back up straight.
The Right Footwear for the Job
- Wear proper shoes, boots, or sneakers – you need something that provides a good base of support and prevents any slippage. Remember there may be a lot of dew on the ground or on the leaves.
Ask for Help
- Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself. Yard work can be a big job! If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it. It’s better to ask for a little help now to get the job done than to hurt yourself and then need a lot more help later.
Jon Cinkay is a physical therapist and exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department. He is the Body Mechanics Coordinator at HSS, promoting safe body mechanics.