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Yard work does not have to be a pain in the neck

By David Freidson | Posted: Monday, June 24, 2013 12:00 am

Editor's note: This is the debut of new Lakeshore Weekly News columnist Dr. David Freidson of Synergy Health & Rehabilitation. His column will run on the last Tuesday of each month.

There is nothing better than the smell of freshly cut grass and the feeling of accomplishment with looking out at the beauty of your recently mowed and manicured lawn. And nothing worse than having those sensations tempered by pain due to an injury or improper body mechanics.

Low back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor's office, second only to upper respiratory infections, and yard work can often lead to low back pain.

Your low back can be injured when you pull the starter for your mower, before you've even cut the first blade of grass. To avoid this type of acute injury, you want to make sure that when you're pulling the starter, your low back is not curved forward in what is called a flexed lumbar spine.

The natural curve of the lumbar spine is backwards and it is called a lordotic curve. I tell my patients to keep their chest up to maintain the natural lordotic curve of their low back whenever they are lifting or bending. The natural front to back, or anterior to posterior curves of the spine increase the strength of the spine by a factor of 17.

Most low back pain with yard work is not caused by acute injuries. This type of low back pain is usually attributed to prolonged flexion of the spine. You may have increasing pain during, or after yard work. Or you may not have the pain until the next day.

To counteract the detrimental effects of prolonged spinal flexion, I advise my patients to do low back microbreak stretches. To do this stretch, stand up tall, put your palms on either side of your spine at the low back, and gently arch backwards. Do this stretch for 10 seconds every five-15 minutes.

Bending and squatting can cause knee pain. Many common yard work activities involve frequent squatting and bending. Tending to our gardens is the most common activity that we do in the yard in which we squat and bend. The best advice for gardeners to protect their knees is that the knees should not be forward of your toes. When the knees go forward of your toes, there is increased pressure that develops under the kneecap.

If you need to squat or bend down for a second or two, pretend there is a line that starts on the front of your toes and goes up - try not to have your knees go forward of that line. If you need to squat or bend for more than few seconds while gardening, try to either sit on a small stool, or on gardening knee pads.

Shoulder soreness due to yard work is not as common as back pain and knee pain, but shoulder pain can definitely occur after working in the yard. Any activities that involve raising your arms for a prolonged amount of time can lead to shoulder pain. Common activities with yard work that involve the shoulders being raised are trimming the tops of the hedges, or pushing lawnmower in which the handle is too high.

Strengthening certain muscles will also help prevent the likelihood of having pain after doing yard work. Doing core exercises will help with the low back pain.

Strengthening your quadriceps will help with knee pain. Increasing the strength around your scapula will help with shoulder pain. If you don't have pain in your muscles or joints and want to start a strength training program, then a personal trainer could show you good exercises to do. But if you already have existing pain, you should see your primary doctor, an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapist or chiropractor who can give you specific exercises for your condition.

The above is not medical advice; rather it is advice to try to help prevent low back pain, shoulder pain and knee pain after doing yard work. If you have pain in any of these regions, please consult with a health care professional first as having these issues properly treated is the best way to prevent pain after yard work.

David Freidson works out of the Synergy Health & Rehabilitation office in Minnetonka. To learn more, visit www.synergyhealthmn.com or call 952-475-4080.

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