Every year thousands of patients will make an emergency visit to their osteopath after having spent the day clearing leaves from the garden and guttering.
Usually, they will have been relatively inactive over the summer and wake up on a Saturday morning with a strong impulse to spend the whole day raking, sweeping, bagging and climbing ladders. Or as us manual therapists call it, repetitive twisting, bending, stooping, extending, lifting, climbing, reaching, balancing and carrying. All these movements will put your back under enormous strain at the best of times.
Here’s our 7-step osteopath’s guide to preparing for this seasonal task and reducing the risk of spending the weeks afterwards in pain.
- WARM UP We know that muscles are cold, discs are more vulnerable to strain right after getting out of bed. So, start the day with some gentle movements and stretches to help reduce disc pressure before undertaking heavy work. Suggestions: a 10 minute walk, 10 star jumps. Going through the motions of what you’ll be doing first in your garden can be really useful. Dress warmly to start with, you can always peel off layers as you warm up. A similar routine after your exertions can help minimise muscle soreness.
- SIZE DOES MATTER. Use a rake that’s suitable for your height and strength. Rakes come in different shapes and sizes, so make sure you get one that’s comfortable and easy to use for your particular body type.
- PROTECT YOUR HANDS. A pair of sturdy gardening gloves will help prevent blisters and cuts and is easier on the joints of your fingers.
- LOOK AROUND Take a moment to plan what and how you are going to do things. Leaves can easily conceal rocks, branches, tree stumps, or uneven ground. Stay alert and familiarize yourself with your surroundings before you begin.
- YOU CAN’T HURRY LEAVES. Sweeping and raking require enormous co-ordination from practically all the muscles and joints in the body. Research into motion patterns suggests that muscular and joint strains are less likely to happen if your mind and your body are focussed on the same task.
- SWITCH IT UP! Most people will naturally keep their body in the same position, based on which is their dominant hand or foot. Maintaining this position over an extended period of time will cause “repetitive strain” to one side of the body (back, neck, shoulder, etc.). Changing your arm and foot position often will easily prevent stress and strain throughout the entire body. Always use your legs and core to shift your weight and move. This will avoid excessive use of your back.
- PREVENT SLIP AND SLIDE. If it’s wet leaves you’re dealing with, wear shoes with slip-resistant soles. Not only will the right shoes reduce your risk of falling, but they also minimize injury to your feet.
That’s it! Keep safe and enjoy the autumn colours.