Dr. Frank Wen, DC
Home Injury Prevention - Yard Work
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Welcome back to my home improvement blog series! As the weather has finally warmed up in Seattle, I have been out and about in my yard doing a lot of landscaping and maintenance. Like many, I've come to find the activity very relaxing and a good way to be with nature without leaving home- especially in the past 2 years! Of course, this activity doesn't come without risk for some individuals as I have squeezed in many patients over the years on Saturday afternoons who threw out their low back doing yard work.
Work in your yard can include many activities, but for this post I want to keep the focus on the more "bendy" activities such as hedging, shoveling, pulling weeds, mulching, and moving rocks as they generally cause many people discomfort in the low back.
Before I get to some exercises to help you be able to prepare and protect your body while doing yard work I want to take a moment to give you another perspective about thinking about your low back.
Prior to my training as a chiropractor—and even in my training as one—we are frequently told that we should avoid bending over, otherwise known as stooping, to protect the low back from injury. The reasoning behind this is to prevent injury to your spinal discs in the low back because of high forces that can develop in them when bending. For years I have heeded and passed on this general principle but always felt it wasn't quite matching up with reality. Why are so many people able to stoop over and over again without traumatic injury? I've seen so many people doing it at yoga, their yards, and in the fields. Why have so many patients told me that bending forward can often make their low back feel better? Why would nature even allow us this terrible ability if it is so detrimental to our survival as a species?
The truth is: bending in any direction in the low back can be good or bad depending on the situation, intensity, and exposure.
My contention, and I believe too of many contemporary practitioners, is that being able to bend and round your low back is a normal human movement. Anytime you need to interact with something on the ground should not always require a maximal core stabilizing and lower extremity muscle engagement strategy. I will 100% agree with that strategy to protect your low back from injury if you're lifting something relatively heavy. However, in the absence of a serious injury to the low back, if you can't bend over to tie your shoe or pick up something small without having to plan the whole movement out or have some fear— then something is not normal.
So what's the real issue going on then? Modernization and industrialization has changed our environment and how we interact with it. Our schooling, work, leisure, and travel often requires us to sit for long periods. This contributes to our low back, hip, and thigh muscles being tight and uncomfortable. But you knew that already. The muscles in these areas work to help us maintain some form of uprightness even though we may not feel them in that very moment. It's often when they become fatigued or overused is when we start to notice something is wrong.
You probably also know that core strengthening and avoiding using the low back can help prevent and mitigate pain—which can help—but often leads many people to perpetuate the tightness and immobility in their low back musculature. My clinical experience has found that without having adequate and controllable mobility makes you susceptible to developing acute pain and spasm in moments you literally have your guard down. I frequently meet patients that described performing a seemly innocuous movement that triggered the pain. But, if that movement exceeds the normal range your body normally operates in, or if you aren't warmed up, it can easily catch you by surprise. It's like having someone who can't do the splits suddenly try to do it. You can intuitively understand there will be an undesirable result. The back is no different.
I think you got the point now.
The following video contains two routines that can be done by anyone at home that I like to utilize with patients and on myself to help maintain good low back passive and active low back mobility.
Every person's situation and body can be different. This is why it's important if you're experiencing any low back pain, you should have it examined and treated in person as it may complement or alter any home exercise program you do. If you're in need of help: you don't need to go it alone. I invite you to book an appointment today.
-Dr. Frank Wen