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Don't Let Your Back Get "out of Whack": Smart Tips for Attacking Weeds and Leaves

The state-of-the-art equipment available today for lawn and leaf management can turn the average homeowner into a lawn specialist overnight. But the use of weed trimmers, leaf blowers and hedge clippers also has been sending many aspiring landscapers to their doctor's offices.

If not used properly, this equipment can result in back and neck pain, as well as more serious muscular strains and tears, warns the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).

"The repetitive motion that your body undergoes when using such equipment can bring on a whole host of mechanical problems within the body," said Dr. Jerome McAndrews, national spokesman for the ACA. "It is essential to operate your equipment properly. If you do not, the pounding your body endures may be multiplied."

McAndrews offered the following tips to help you safely enjoy a productive day in the yard:

  • Regardless of what piece of equipment you're using, make sure it has a strap -- and that you use it. Place the strap over your head on the shoulder opposite the device. This will help normalize your center of gravity.

  • As often as possible, be sure to switch the side on which you're operating the equipment and, to balance the muscles being used, alternate your stance and motion frequently.

  • Take frequent breaks from the activity of the day. Muscle fatigue may be felt when using any of these devices for an extended period of time.

  • Consider electric-powered items, especially if you experience back or neck pain, as they tend to be much lighter than their engine-powered counterparts.

  • When picking up or putting down your equipment, be sure to bend from the knees, not at the waists. Keep the object close to your body as you lift, not at arm's length.

"While it is critical that you operate your yard equipment safely, it is equally important that you prepare your body for the work you are about to do," explained McAndrews. "Be sure to include a warm-up/cool-down period that involves stretching to help avoid injury."

Simple Stretches

Before stretching, there are a few tips to keep in mind, according to ACA. Breathe in and out slowly throughout each stretching exercise until the muscle is stretched to its furthest point. At that point, hold your breath in. When you relax, breathe out. Stretch gently and smoothly. Do not bounce or jerk your body in any way, and stretch as far as you can comfortably. You should not feel any pain.

The following are some easy stretches McAndrews recommends for getting the most out of the time you spend in the yard:

  • Stand up and prop your heel on a back door-step or stool, with your knee slightly bent. Bend forward until you feel a slight pull at the back of the thigh (your hamstring). You may need to stabilize yourself by holding onto a garage-door handle or sturdy tree branch. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then relax. Do it once more, then repeat with the other leg.

  • Stand up and put your right hand against a wall or other stable surface. Bend your left knee and grab your ankle with your left hand. Pull your heel toward your buttocks to stretech the quadricep muscle at the front of your thigh. Hold that position for 20 seconds, relax and do it again. Repeat with the other leg.

  • Weave your fingers together above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds to stretch the side of your upper body, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.

  • "Hug your best friend": Wrap your arms around yourself after letting your breath out and rotate to one side, as far as you can go. Hold it for 10 seconds, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing