By Dr. Michael Chamberland
Chiropractics / Sports Medicine
The calendar has finally turned to spring, but as Vermonters, we know better. We are patiently waiting to transition through mud season before officially moving into spring with budding trees and flowers, yard cleanup and garden preparations. Once the ground finally thaws, many of us will be spending a fair amount of time raking, mowing, planting flowers, and preparing our vegetable gardens. With the joy and satisfaction of this hard work comes the reward of looking at a beautifully manicured lawn and growing, eating and sharing our own fresh produce.
Yard work and gardening can be a great workout and provide us with a consistent outdoor routine in the fresh air and sunlight, but also can lead to injuries due to the repetitive movements of bending, twisting, lifting, reaching, pulling and pushing, especially if you are not conditioned for this level of activity. Depending on your love of winter, with bountiful snow and ice, you might be more sedentary during the darker, colder months. And, as we age, our bodies require more warm-up and flexibility to accomplish the same tasks as when we were younger.
Before you actually get out there and start working on your yard and garden, now is the time to start making healthy lifestyle choices and implement a simple conditioning program (if you’re not already) to prepare your body for all the physical rigors that are expected. Here are some simple, commonsense guidelines to help you avoid unnecessary injury and contribute to your full enjoyment of home landscaping and gardening. As with any new exercise or physically strenuous activities, please consult your medical provider regarding your ability to perform these tasks.
Start Walking Regularly. Something as simple as walking 30 minutes a day at a moderate pace can be quite beneficial for overall health and longevity. It’s also a good way to get blood pumping throughout your body and loosen up tight muscles and joints. Walking does not require any fancy equipment aside from a good pair of shoes appropriate for your foot structure and weather-dependent clothing. If you are experiencing foot pain with standing and walking, consider visiting one of our Gifford podiatrists for an evaluation and recommendation for appropriate footwear.
Don’t Sit So Much. Research is beginning to show that sitting is the new smoking. The longer we sit each day, the more tight and less flexible our muscles and joints become, in addition to shortening our lifespan. Regular exercise and movement contribute to better function as we age and a longer, happier life. Try to get up and move around every 20-30 minutes or so to avoid stiffening of your spine, joints and muscles.
Drink Plenty of Water. Our bodies are predominately made up of water/fluid, and appropriate daily water intake is a very important component of health. If we are dehydrated, muscles will tighten, become sore and limit our overall ability to move and perform physical activities. Dehydration also contributes to degenerative disk disease of the spine. Try to drink at least eight to 12 cups of water a day. Or simply look at your urine: the darker yellow it is, the more water you need to drink. Don’t wait until you are thirsty; that means you are already dehydrated. Try to “pee clear” the majority of the day. This is generally a good indication of hydration level and the ability of your body to clear metabolic waste products and toxins. If you notice a strange discoloration or odor, consider visiting your primary care provider or urologist.
Perform Simple Core Exercises. There are some very basic core exercises that focus on spinal and pelvic stability so that you are able to move in many different directions without injuring your spine and surrounding muscles and associated joints. Only rare situations would not allow you to be able to perform these exercises due to a health condition.
- Cat-Camel Yoga Posture: Get down on the ground on hands and knees and, starting with a straight spine, perform upward and downward arching of your spine—like a cat or camel. This should be a slow and controlled pain-free movement, especially toward the end of each motion. If this exercise contributes to knee or wrist pain due to contact with the floor, consider performing on a carpet or yoga mat for appropriate cushioning.
- Bird-Dog Exercise: Starting on hands and knees, hold a straight spine and tighten abdominal muscles. Individually lift an arm parallel to the floor, keeping your torso from moving. Repeat on each side 10 times. If your torso/spine does not move and you find this rather easy, progress to movement of individual legs. When you are able to maintain appropriate body position with singular leg movement, progress to opposite arm and leg lifts at the same time. Focus on keeping your torso/spine from moving.
- Pelvic Tilts: Lying on back with knees bent and feet on the ground, slowly and with good control tilt your pelvis forward and back to gently move your spine and loosen the surrounding musculature and ligaments. This shouldn’t be painful. You may feel tight in the beginning, which should lessen as you continue this movement 10 to 15 times.
- Supine Bridge: This is a good basic exercise that will condition your legs and gluteal muscles and support pelvic stability associated with repetitive bending, twisting, lifting, etc. Start by lying on your back, knees bent to approximately 90 degrees, with foot position symmetrical. Find a neutral pelvis position, which should be comfortable without a pulling or pinching sensation in your spine. Hold this stable pelvic position and slowly raise your hips so there is a straight line from your ears, shoulders, hips and knees. In the beginning, start with 10 to 20 repetitions. When this becomes easy, hold the position for as long as you feel stable. Repeat five to 10 times. Stop when you are not able to hold a stable pelvic position.
- Prone Plank: Start with a modified position if you have not done this before. Lying on your stomach, elbows bent and under your shoulders, bend your knees and lift your stomach off the floor creating a straight line from ears to knees. Hold for up to 10 seconds, and work up to 30-second holds. Try three repetitions. Then progress to doing the position on elbows and toes, making a straight line from ears to ankles. This is more challenging.
- Prone Leg Raises: Lying on your stomach, stabilize your pelvis. Tighten the muscles in one leg and raise 1-2 inches from the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat with other leg. Perform 20 times with each leg.
- Wall Slides: Place your back against a flat wall with both shoulder blades and buttocks touching the wall symmetrically. Place feet symmetrically in front of you in a comfortable position. Slowly and with control of your alignment and pelvic positioning, lower your body so that your thighs are approximately parallel with the floor. Keep your knees behind your toes; bring feet forward if your knees go in front of your toes. Slowly return to an upright standing position. Repeat for two to three sets of 10 repetitions. Avoid if you have pronounced knee pain.
Stretch. Always warm up with gentle movements, such as walking or other activities, for roughly 10 to 15 minutes. This will increase blood flow into the muscles and tissue. Never stretch when “cold.” Slowly increase the stretch as you feel your muscles relax. Do not bounce or move in a jerky manner. Stretch slowly and gently and stop at the end of elasticity, like a rubber band. Avoid stretching into discomfort or pain. Stretching should not be painful. Do not hold your breath; inhale deeply before each stretch and exhale during the stretch. As your flexibility improves, increase the number of repetitions and the amount of movement. Stop immediately if you feel any moderate to severe pain.
Practice Proper Lifting Technique. Avoid bending with your spine. Use your hips and knees to squat if you need to lift something from a table or the ground. Keep your spine straight. Keep objects as close to your body as possible when lifting and carrying to maintain appropriate center of gravity and avoid placing unnecessary stress on your spine. Try to use both arms when lifting or pulling. Avoid single arm pulling, which will cause rotation and potential stress or injury in your spine. Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy for you. Ask for help when available. Use a wheelbarrow or cart to move heavy objects versus lifting and carrying. Kneel—don’t bend—when working low to the ground. Consider using a small stool if your knees don’t like bending. Change position and move frequently. Use your legs when pushing or pulling objects instead of simply your arms and back.
For additional recommendations or exercises, consider visiting one of the Sports Medicine providers at the Sharon Health Center or one of the many physical therapists available throughout Gifford’s outpatient clinics.
p.s. Gifford staff LOVES when you share your extra vegetables!