Staying Safe While Groundskeeping
If you are responsible for maintaining an outdoor space, you know there are different challenges at different times of the year. But during the late autumn and early winter, many homeowners are doing particularly intense work that may not resemble their usual activities. Chiropractors generally approve of outdoor activities for most patients as good exercise and an opportunity to get much-needed sunlight. However, there are certain precautions that we must take to reduce the risk of an accident, which is the subject of this month’s newsletter.
Before you exercise, it’s always a good idea to spend a few minutes warming up with dynamic stretches. This means stretches that require you to keep in motion, as opposed to holding a stretch for several seconds; those kinds are more suited for cooldowns. A five-minute warmup is often appropriate. You’ll also need to be dressed properly. Your clothes should be warm, but breathable and fit snuggly to your body. That may mean you will wear multiple light layers, instead of a single heavy coat. If you have long hair, bind it down, and remove dangling jewelry. One of the most important factors is to wear boots with slip-resistant soles, and only put them on if they are dry.
The weather is another factor to keep in mind. You don’t want the ground to be wet when you’re raking, and you don’t want the leaves to be weighted down with water while you’re carrying them, either. Likewise, compacted snow will be heavier, and so as long as it isn’t windy when the snow is falling and you aren’t relying on snow to prevent freezing rain from forming ice on the ground, there is an argument to be made for shoveling it before it collapses under its own weight. Your chiropractor can give you further guidance if you have specific health concerns.
As for equipment, try to keep to rakes and shovels that are lightweight. It doesn’t make sense to use one that is wider than what you are able to lift. Many also have adjustable handles so you won’t have to bend over for a long time. If you are using a ladder to place outdoor lights, keep it on level ground, and keep the base of an extension ladder within a distance of the wall equal to ¼ of how high up you will be going. You will also have to brace or tie it securely.
Chiropractors generally recommend that you rake in a scissor-stance, with one foot forward and one foot back. While shoveling, you should stand with your feet at hip-width apart. You will pile leaves to your side, and switch which side of your body you are piling on about every fifteen minutes. (This will also mean changing which hand is higher on the handle.) Remember, you don’t have to scrape all the way down to the ground with each pass. If you need to carry a load in the rake or shovel, keep one hand near the blade and the other near the far end of the handle.
As you fill a leaf bag, test periodically whether you have to strain to lift it. You probably won’t be able to fill the bag to the top before it gets too heavy. When you move the bag, remember the standard rules about lifting heavy objects: crouch down instead of bending over, carry it near the vertical midline of your body, and turn your whole body when you change direction instead of twisting your torso. If you need to bend over, pivot at your hips instead of your lower back.
You may also be able to avoid piling up snow if you start shoveling from the midpoint of your driveway, instead of pushing snow the entire length or width. Chiropractors want you well enough to go about your normal activities, but also value prevention. Be willing to take breaks even if it means you won’t get done when you wanted to, stop doing anything that hurts, and hire someone else if you need to.