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LIVING WELL: Tips to avoid back strain from fall chores

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- This is a very busy time of year for many people who are dealing with the changing of the seasons.

One of the most challenging tasks of fall is cleaning leaves. It seems that this year we have an especially bountiful harvest of leaves. The chores of gathering and disposing of leaves could end up causing back strain for many local residents.

Although my clinic specializes in treating back injuries and we are here to help you if you need it, we recommend avoiding injury if possible.

Below are a few important tips to help you stay safe.

Last month, I posted notice that I was selling leaves from my property at a very reasonable rate. I offered them for a $1 per truckload. I established a policy of pick-your-own like the strawberry and blueberry farms.

Regrettably, I had no customers, so now I must deal with the harvest myself.

I chose to invest in two new tools for dealing with leaves this year. First I discovered that the pull-behind leaf sweepers designed for use with a riding mower are very helpful.

Secondly, I decided to try a backpack leaf blower. Wow. What a difference between this powerful tool and using handheld leaf blowers. There is no comparison.

Both of these tools dramatically increased my productivity in the leaf harvesting business. The tow-behind leaf rake does an excellent job of sweeping leaves, acorns, small sticks and nearly anything else in its path into the catcher. As it fills, I simply drive it to a convenient place to dump the contents.

The challenge comes in trying to actually dump the load from the mower seat. I found that trying to use the thin rope supplied with the sweeper was nearly impossible and that I risked injuring my hand from using it. Even after I rigged a PVC handle to use with the rope to get a more comfortable grip I found that the strain on my back from twisting and pulling from the mower seat was excessive.

I decided that even though the capacity of the sweeper was quite large, my personal capacity was more conservative. I needed to empty the sweeper when it reached the halfway point rather than wait until it was full.  Although that resulted in more frequent emptying, it also protected my back.

That is the first tip of this article. Be smart enough to recognize your own personal capacity. Use smaller loads and make more frequent trips when carrying items or materials.

The use of the backpack leaf blower brings up the second tip. Think of ergonomics, which is the concept of how a work task affects your body. For example, if you must work on a piece of equipment or material for longer than a few minutes, try to elevate it to your level on a bench or support rather than continually stooping or bending.

With regard to the backpack blower, even though the backpack version weighs more than the handheld blower I had previously used, the fact that it can strap onto my back and therefore more effectively distribute the weight around my central body means that I can carry it more easily. Trying to continually carry a handheld blower of less weight in an awkward position farther away from my torso causes more strain on my back.

The third tip is to recognize when you need a rest break or when you should call it a day. A large number of injuries I treat each year arise after a person should have quit for the day.  You are far more likely to incur an injury when tired.

BONUS TIP: Perhaps the best advice for saving your back is to find a way to get someone else to do the work for you. In that effort I failed miserably for this example. Had my business venture of opening a pick-your-own leaf harvest succeeded, the only thing I would have had to carry would have been my bank deposits from the $1 per load fees I proposed to charge. Maybe next year I’ll come up with a better idea.

Tagged under  Back Pain, Health, Health Care, Home Improvement, Living Well, Pain

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