Guidelines for a Healthy Spring Gardening and Cleaning

Posted on Apr 2, 2014, by

Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner and that means planting, weeding, mulching and spring cleaning.

Willa Fornetti, DO is the Kennedy Center’s orthopedic doctor who specializes in non-surgical orthopedics.  She notes that there are hundreds of websites and books that discuss safe gardening and spring cleaning techniques, but they all can be summarized in a few simple guidelines.

And Nicole Edwards, Licensed Athletic Trainer at the Kennedy Center at Mercy in Oshkosh, suggests that following these rules of body mechanics will help you avoid joint and back pain.

  • Stretch your back, arms and legs for a few minutes before heading out to the garden or before cleaning out the basement or garage.  This easy pre-step is a simple way to avoid pain later in the day.
  • The most important rule for any activity requiring lifting is to bend your knees and hips, sit back with your butt out – like sitting in a chair – and keep your back straight, with normal spine curves. In other words, squat!  It’s important to squat, whether it’s doing something as easy as making the bed to doing a task as hard as shoveling dirt or mulch.
  • Gardening
    •  When shoveling, keep your loads light.  Don’t try to lift more than you can manage – that’s when people strain or injure themselves.  Use proper body mechanics, even with light loads.
    • Use your entire body to shovel – not just your upper body.  Your hip and thigh muscles are some of the largest and strongest in the body – put them to work too.
    • Use a wheelbarrow to haul mulch or dirt when possible.
    • When lifting a load, put one hand on the handle and the other as close as comfortably possible to the scoop.  This makes for sturdier control of the load.
    • Weeding:  Try using a stool or rubber kneeling pad instead of bending over.  You’ll be surprised at how much easier it makes the task.
    • Take frequent rest breaks and change position often to let your muscles relax.
    • Spring Cleaning
      • The same basic body mechanics rules apply to spring cleaning chores as to gardening.
        • Lift with your legs by bending your knees and hips and squatting.
        • Pivot your entire body when moving items – don’t just twist from the waist.
        • Whenever you lift something, remember to keep it as close to your body as possible to reduce strain on your back.
        • Overhead lifting can be dangerous so avoid it if possible.  But if you need to get something overhead, avoid over-reaching and use a ladder or stepstool.  Keep the load close to your body as you lower it to avoid rotator cuff injury.
        • Slide or push heavy or awkward items to avoid lifting when possible.

If you’ve had a hip replacement or a knee replacement, it’s important to keep the following  restrictions in mind:

Total Hip Replacement

  • Don’t sit on a gardening chair (kneeling chair) or on a short stool – it’s too low for your hip!
  • Two – three months after your surgery, it’s OK to kneel on a pad or kneeler.  Kneel on the surgical leg first!
  • Avoid crawling on your hands and knees
  • Don’t squat deeply.  Don’t get in a position where your hips are lower than your knees.
  • No shoveling until 4 months post-op.  This includes gardening, snow shoveling or in the barn

Total Knee Replacement

  • No shoveling until 4 months post-op.  This includes gardening, snow shoveling or in the barn.
  • At 3 months after your knee replacement, it is OK to kneel if you can tolerate it.  Kneeling will likely be uncomfortable so take it easy.

Anyone who has had surgery, especially those with joint replacements, should avoid getting in the dirt if you have any open sores or cuts to avoid exposure to bacteria.

Follow these simple guidelines and go out and enjoy spring!

Nicole Edwards, LAT
And the Orthopedic Doctors at the Kennedy Center at Mercy Medical Center

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