Avoiding Fall Clean-Up Injuries

Matthew Gordon, PT, DPT talks about ways to keep from getting injuries while doing fall yard clean up.

Let start off with, what is the biggest misconception people have in regards to fall clean up?
I think the biggest misconception is people’s estimation of what they can do. A lot of people either don’t work out or are not specifically trained for the kind of movements that are used during lot clean up. And as a result they typically overdo it and the result is pain. The other misconception is that most people do not see clean ups as a workout. But if I asked you to do 250 oblique crunches, 250 arm rows, and 250 lunges you would likely feel overwhelmed and you would likely know that you were going to be sore tomorrow. But people think they can go out a rake leaves for a few hours and there will be no problem.

So how can avoid unnecessary pain?
The first thing is to know your limitations. This means more frequent breaks and maybe doing the clean up over multiple days instead of a single bout. Also, one of the best things you could do would be to start doing exercises the match the activities you will be doing during the cleanup. For example: raking – when I think about this movement I see repetitive motions where you push the arms across and away from the body, followed by a strong sustained downwards force combined with a pulling force to bring the leaves towards you. A strong core and back contraction is also needed in order to help stabilize the spine while doing this motion. The hips and legs are also greatly involved as they do lunges and squats.

Knowing the components of raking what would be some good exercises that patients could do?
Starting with small bouts of squats and lunges where you hold your stomach in would be a good start – you could also add a twist to this movement as you come back to neutral standing too further mimic raking. You could also use bands to mimic the arms going across and away from your body and then pulling them back to neutral. Also, if people have a hard breaking down a movement like this or they are unsure of what exercises to do, I would recommend them coming to Mettler to talk with one of our awesome trainers. They will work with you to create a one of a kind exercise program that fits your lifestyle and needs. This will not only help you clean up the yard but will help improve all areas of your life.

What other fall chores should people be careful during?
One thing that I have seen patients for in the past is rotator cuff injuries that resulted from them trying to break a branch in half instead of using the loppers or a saw. I would highly recommend not trying to break branches, because if the branch is stronger than you expect and it does not break but recoils it will pull your arm quickly away and you could be at risk for a rotator cuff injury. Also, weeding is a huge source of lower back and hip pain – people will put themselves in very awkward postures to pull weeds. The best way you can avoid this kind of injury is to stay aware of your posture. Think about your core and spine. Is your core engaged and keeping your spine in a good neutral alignment?

Are there any good exercises that can teach people how to activate their core and learn to properly align their spine?
There is no one exercise that can do this, unfortunately – but this is where exercise classes with educated instructors come in. People who don’t know how to engage their core or how to keep good alignment of the spine would greatly benefit from yoga and Pilates classes. At Mettler we have amazing teachers that know how to instruct and correct postures to teach people how to use their bodies correctly. So if someone listening is thinking that they don’t know how to do these things – I would highly recommend coming in and working with our instructors.

If someone is already experiencing pain – either from doing something this fall or has pain that has been chronic – what advice would you give them?
The first thing they need to do is start keeping track of their pain. What makes it better and what makes it worse. This will not only help the patient in regards to knowing what they can and can't do, but if they choose to do PT this is very helpful information. Secondly, if their pain started recently, but is not going away – I would recommend getting into PT. The longer a person has pain the more they will begin to compensate and typically the more compensations a patient has the longer PT will take to normalize things. Lastly, if you are the person who has had pain for a long time and you are just dealing with it – then my advice is simply. Take 30 minutes out of your day and come see me or one of the highly trained therapists at Mettler. We want to work with you to help get you back to a better quality of life. The consult is free, so please take this time to come in and talk with us.