Avoiding injuries this fall

pt HealthInjury Prevention, Occupational Therapy

Are those summer plants and flowers looking brown and overgrown? Is it time to rake some leaves?

Whether you are tidying up the garage or cleaning up the yard, these tasks can involve stretching, lifting, pushing, pulling, climbing, twisting and turning, and most people tend to overextend themselves.

Taking a few necessary precautions can go a long way in helping you avoid injuries. Here are some key tips to keep you safe this fall.

Have a plan

  • Take some time to plan your projects over several days or weekends.
  • Set goals. Know your limits. Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  • In the house, be methodical: go room by room.
  • Pace yourself! Pick a good stopping point and start working again another day. You are at greater risk of injury when you are in a hurry to get things done and “overdo it.”
  • Use the alarm on your smartphone to remind yourself to take breaks every 20 minutes.
  • Whenever possible, enlist help and assign tasks.

Set up

  • Gather all the tools or equipment you may need before you get started.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothes and closed-toe shoes.
  • When indoors, ensure good lighting especially in halls and stairwells.
  • When outside, open doors and gates in advance; clear steps and walkways.
  • Have a bottle of water to stay hydrated.

Check equipment and use proper tools

  • Use a step-stool or ladder and ensure it is secured properly and safe to use. DO NOT over-reach.
  • Ensure power tools and other equipment are safe to use (e.g. there should be no exposed wires).
  • Choose the proper tool for the task at hand. The tool should feel comfortable and natural to you when in use.
  • Telescopic handles may require less energy and keep your body in proper alignment.
  • Well-fitting gloves with good grip. Loose-fitting or cloth gloves will decrease coordination and increase the grip strength required causing hand and arm fatigue.

Stretch before and during the task

  • Warm up before you start by gently stretching. This prevents strain and fatigue in the most vulnerable muscles in the neck, shoulders, buttocks, thigh and lower leg. It also increases circulation in the muscles, reducing muscle spasm and stiffness.
  • Avoid repetitive movements and change your body position frequently to avoid overwhelming muscles.

Get close with your shovel, rake and broom

  • Hug your shovel, rake and broom! Frequently! This rests the back, relaxes back muscles and relieves muscle strain.
  • Hold equipment close to your body. This reduces strain on joints, upper back and shoulder muscles – and it gives your back a break!
  • Use your whole body (not just your back and arms) when you sweep, mop or vacuum.

Lift and carry with your legs, not your back

  • As you lift, engage your core by pushing your belly button in and down, sinking your tailbone, bend your knees and push through your feet into the ground.
  • Keep the load as close to your body as possible.
  • Make two trips instead of “overloading” your back. For example, transfer water using small containers instead of lifting heavy buckets.
  • If an item is too big to move, ask for help even if it is “inconvenient.”

Don’t bend and avoid twisting the body

  • Keep your back straight and avoid twisting: turn your body so that you are facing the object/area you are working on or when lifting and carrying.
  • When working close to the ground, kneel with one knee, not both.
  • Avoid repetitive arm movements such as when cleaning floors: keep the vacuum (or mop) at waist height and close to the front center part of your body. Place both hands on the handle and push the vacuum in front of you while walking in a long line, then pull back using the same motion. Never push and pull in short strokes.

Fall cleaning can provide good exercise: you can burn hundreds of calories while digging, raking, sweeping!

If you have developed an injury or would like to consult a pt Health clinician on how to avoid injuries, find a clinic near you to schedule appointment.

This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Cris Alexandre, Director of OT services in Ontario.


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