With late fall and early winter coming into view, gardening tasks move away from planting and into clean-up chores, including raking leaves and (the dreaded) shoveling snow. Here are some important tips from your NEX Wellness Chiropractor on how to prevent injuries, including back pain and muscle soreness, when the weather turns cold.

Fall Yard Work

Raking leaves in the autumn can be an enjoyable outdoor task, provided that you take a few simple precautions to prevent the most common complaint — low back pain.

Begin with a warm up.

Before you start, go for a 5 to 10-minute brisk walk around the neighbourhood. While you’re enjoying the colours of fall, you will also be preparing your body and muscles for the task at hand.

Pay attention to form.

Pain and strains occur when you put your body in an awkward position. While raking, make sure your legs are slightly bent with your weight centred over your body and one leg slightly in front of the other. When you reach, use your arms rather than your back. To lift leaves correctly, keep your back straight, bending at the hips and knees to lower down, then using your legs to power the lift.

Select the right equipment.

Rake –Using a rake that is too long or too short for your height will cause you to alter your posture, contributing to back pain and muscle strains. The ideal rake for you will be at chest level.FACT CHECK. The width of your rake is also a consideration — narrow rakes that don’t collect many leaves will make the job longer, while extra wide rakes that help collect more leaves can put more of a strain on your back.

Shoes — Supportive shoes with arch support and skid-resistant soles will help keep you energized and prevent falls on wet lawns and leaves.

Leaf blower — If you have prior injuries or an extra large yard, you might want to consider a lightweight gas or electric leafblower that you can use to blow all the leaves into one pile.

Tarp — A tarp is a great raking tool. Rake or blow leaves onto a tarp, pulling one end of the tarp to move the leaves to your desired location.

Alternate hands while raking.

Most people only rake with their dominant hand, putting undue strain on one side of the body. By switching hands, you will give muscles on the dominant side a break, while building up strength in the other.

Take regular breaks.

Take a short break every 20 to 30 minutes to rest or do another light task that switches up the muscles you are using.

Snow Shovelling

As with raking leaves, using the most appropriate equipment, warming up, and paying attention to proper form will go a long way to preventing strains and injuries when shovelling snow this winter.

Warm up.

In colder weather, this means walking in place inside and/or venturing outside for a short walk around the block with layered warm clothing. Bundling up will help prevent muscles from tightening. While rare, there is some evidence linking heart attacks with sudden aerobic and weight-lifting exercise in the cold, due to the constriction of arteries and vessels, so warming up and keeping warm is doubly important.

Wear snow boots.

Proper snow boots with good traction (and spikes if needed) will help prevent falls and serious injury. It’s well worth the investment!

Choose the shovelling tool that’s right for you.

Good ergonomics are essential, so select your shovel carefully. Be sure to use a shovel with a curved handle, as this will help keep your back straighter as you work. Plastic is preferred over metal since it is lighter, putting less strain on the spine. And if you live in a location that is particularly snowy, consider purchasing a snowblower (a bonus — your less able-bodied neighbours would be very grateful for the help).

Use proper technique.

When you grip the shovel, keep your hands at least 30 cm apart. This increases your leverage while reducing the strain on your body. Aim to push the show rather than lifting it. But if you do have to lift it, keep the shovel close to your body and squat with your legs, keeping the back straight — no bending at the waist, twisting or rotating.

Do a little at a time.

Don’t try to remove deep snow all at once. Wet snow in particular can be very heavy. 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off (to do some gentle stretching for your back, arms and legs) is a good rule of thumb.

As with any physical task, know your limits and don’t exceed them. If you experience pain of any kind, stop immediately and seek assistance. For minor low back pain or other injuries, rest up and apply heat and/or ice to the affected area(s). For treatment of back pain and other musculo-skeletal injuries, consult your chiropractor.

Your NEX Wellness chiropractor in Burlington and chiropractic Binbrook uses a variety of lighter touch chiropractic techniques to help you keep your spine, muscles and joints healthy; manage pain and injuries, if they occur; and suggest preventative and therapeutic exercises. Book your appointment http://nexwellness.com/home/contact/ today.