Posts Tagged ‘Jay Lipoff’

Avoiding Back Pain in Your Own Backyard

Now that Spring has sprung, you may get the urge to prepare your garden beds, clean up your yard, and maybe plant a new tree or shrub.

Just don’t try to do it all in one weekend, or you may wake up Monday morning bent over with back pain and a stiff neck.

But it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re smart, says Dr. Jay M. Lipoff, a chiropractor, certified fitness trainer, and nationally recognized expert in spinal injury prevention.

Dr. Lipoff is also the author of Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life With the Needs of Your Body, and an executive board member of the ICA Council of Fitness and Health Sports Science.

Here are some techniques from Dr. Lipoff that can save your spine while performing these four common backyard chores:

Raking and Hoeing

Raking is a one-sided chore because you tend to turn to one side and predominantly use one arm.

Try to engage both sides of your body when performing the motion.

Hoeing also puts more strain on one arm and hand.

With both raking and hoeing, switch sides every few minutes, even though it will feel awkward.

If you’re working a large area, give yourself a break every 20 minutes with a rest, a glass of lemonade, or switch to a different type of activity.

Always walk to where you need to be–don’t reach with the hoe or rake, which will cause more stress to the muscles of your lower back.

Digging and Shoveling

Whether you’re digging a hole or shoveling compost into your wheelbarrow, the key to avoiding back injury is to take it slowly and don’t overload the shovel.

Wear heavy-duty boots so you can step down hard onto the shovel, letting your body weight do much of the work.

Bend your knees when lifting the shovel so those big muscles in your legs and buttocks are doing the heavy lifting, and you’re not bent over, straining your back.

If you have to shovel something heavy, such as gravel, use your thigh as a fulcrum (think of the shovel as a seesaw) by placing the handle of the shovel onto it about three quarters of the way down.

Now all you have to do is push down on the handle to lift up that heavy gravel.


If you can’t afford a lawn service and don’t have kids who can do this chore for you, the next best thing is a riding mower.

Make sure it has a comfortable seat, because all that bouncing on a bad seat wrecks your back.

If you can’t get your seat replaced, try sitting on a boat cushion.

If you mow slowly, it will diminish any unevenness in the terrain.

If you prefer a push mower, try to get one that is self-propelled, which reduces strain going up hills and around curves.

With any push mower, self-propelled or not, pushing is better for your back than pulling; try to limit back-and-forth yanking.

Stay close to the mower to avoid overreaching.

Trimming and Weed Whacking

A trimmer and a weed whacker are terribly designed machines.

(A quick aside: whenever I see or hear the words “weed whacker” I think of Carl Hiaasen’s wacky character Chemo, the hit man with the weed whacker attached to the stump of his arm. Puts a smile on my face!)

Both machines require you to hold them in front of your body while leaning forward.

The weight in front of you is multiplied by 10-15 times the actual weight of the trimmer or weed whacker.

In addition, just leaning forward creates 200 pounds of additional pressure per square inch on the discs of your spine.

If your trimmer comes with a shoulder strap to minimize back strain, use it.

Otherwise, Dr. Lipoff recommends strategic stonewalls, flower gardens, a neighborhood kid, and mulching to reduce the need for trimmers at all.

If you use one, be careful so you’re not sore the next day.

One final piece of advice from Dr. Lipoff: “Before launching into any big outdoor project, whether it’s stacking firewood or moving patio furniture out of the garage, take a few minutes to loosen up.

Do some stretches to warm up your muscles.

If you take care of your back when doing outdoor chores, your back will take care of you.”