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Health & Exercise Forum

Lawn Care Safety

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Jul 2, 2012

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumMy wife, Esther, loves to work in the yard! As a Pennsylvania Dutch girl growing up in Lebanon, PA, caring for plants and animals was an integral part of daily life. As for me, I am her loyal assistant cutting grass, mulching, planting, landscaping etc. I too, love the outdoors but I enjoy golfing, running, swimming, kayaking, and playing tennis more than cutting the grass! Therefore, this column is for those readers like me, whose goal is to get the job done safely, so as not to suffer any injuries that might interfere with our other outdoor activities!

People may not think of yard work as a form exercise, but it can be very strenuous. It can also be stressful to you bones, joints, muscles and tendons. For example, digging with a shovel can irritate your shoulders, elbows and hands with each push through the earth. Also, prolonged bending and twisting and repeatedly carrying heavy loads can create upper and lower back pain.  Hand, wrist and elbow pain is associated with pruning, edging, cutting and clipping. Squatting and kneeling can play havoc with your knees and hips.

Research from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the most common gardening injury in adults is overstrained muscles, tendons and ligaments. Furthermore, the incidence of these injuries increases with age. Those most vulnerable are between 60 and 69 years of age while those 40 to 59 years old are a close second.

Recommendations for Safe Lawn Care

  • Rest as needed. Stretch your neck, middle and lower back in the opposite direction you are working every 15 minutes. For example, perform these four stretches slowly and hold for 5 seconds. One, bring your neck over your shoulders by making a double chin, Two, pinch your shoulder blades together, Three, bend your lower back backwards with your hands on your hips, four, extend your fingers backwards in the opposite direction of a grip.
  • Work within your fitness level – this is NOT the time to increase activity intensity. Break the job up into several 20-30 minute work sessions.
  • Always warm into the activity slowly and cool-down.
  • Lift Carefully - Do not hold your breath, bend your knees, keep your back straight, tighten your abdominals, keep the object close to you, and lift slowly, without a sudden jerk. If the object is too heavy or awkward, such as a lifting a lawn mower to or from the trunk of a car, GET HELP!
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after yard work
  • Eat well
  • Do not get overheated, wear layers and add or subtract accordingly
  • Be mindful of deer ticks
  • Wear good shoes for protection, traction, comfort and support
  • Proper Equipment – can significantly reduce injury. Make sure the equipment fits you properly. For example, adjust the handle to chest level for easy pushing, use ergonomic and shock absorbing handle pads to protect from carpal tunnel or hand joint arthritis, use self-propelling and large easy spin/turn wheels.
  • Wear safety glasses and noise protection for your ears.
  • Use a knee pad when weeding or working down low. Also, consider tools that can be used while standing upright. DO NOT squat or bend over! This will cause injury to your lower back and knees.
  • Make sure equipment is in proper working condition for optimal performance with minimal effort. Sharpen blades, change oil, and lubricate joints and wheels.

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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice in downtown Scranton  and is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.