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How to Keep Yard From Being a Pain

December 25, 1991|SALLY SQUIRES | WASHINGTON POST

Weekend gardening can be one of our great pleasures. But pulling weeds, raking a lawn or just digging a hole also can strain the back in painful ways.

"If you are hunkered down, bending over as you work in the garden, you will stress low-back muscles and become exhausted after awhile," said James Richards, an avid gardener and orthopedic surgeon, who practices in Orlando, Fla.

The frequent squatting and kneeling required for planting and weeding puts additional strain on the lower back. "All the effects of gravity are playing on it," said physical therapist Sherrie Lamothe of the National Rehabilitation Hospital. "You stay there for quite a while and do all this reaching. It's a bad position."

Digging and raking, which involve repetitive motion as well as twisting and turning, also can injure the back. So can lifting bags of mulch, leaves or fertilizer, since these bags are often far heavier than they appear. "Most of us have no business picking up 30-gallon containers of grass clippings or anything else," Richards said.

Even pushing a wheelbarrow filled with a heavy load can lead to a sudden muscle injury. The reason: Most wheelbarrows have a single wheel and easily tip to one side or the other. Once unbalanced, they require a great deal of strength to right them--an effort that can easily strain the back, shoulders or arms.

Here's what experts recommend to help reduce back strain for gardeners:

* Avoid squatting and bending as much as possible. Both place extra strain on the lower back.

* Kneel on a soft cushion or sit on a low stool, about 8 inches high, while weeding, planting or working close to the ground.

* While sitting on the stool, keep feet apart and at about a 45-degree angle to the body, much like the legs of a tripod. Weed only directly in front of you, moving the stool as needed to complete the job.

* Take stretching breaks every 15 to 30 minutes. Slowly stand up. Take several deep breaths and place your hands on your upper buttocks. Gently extend the back.

* Use one-wheel wheelbarrows only for light loads. Keep the wheelbarrow as evenly balanced as possible to avoid sudden jerking of arms, back or shoulders, which can cause strain and injury.

* For heavy loads, consider a wheelbarrow that has two wheels. These wheelbarrows are not only easier to balance but also move forward and backward with less effort and thus reduce potential strain to the back and muscles.

* Instead of carrying bags of leaves, grass clippings or other yard debris to the curb for pickup, use a dolly or wheelbarrow.

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