, Gloucester, MA

April 12, 2013

Don't let cleanup put cramp in life

On the Mend
Joe DiVincenzo

---- — In many ways, the condition of your yard is a direct reflection of you. It represents your responsibility to your neighbors and the neighborhood and it helps raise the value of your home.

But it doesn’t clean itself, does it?

If you’ve ever made the mistake of not readying your yard for winter, you know just how difficult it can be to make it presentable in the spring. After the winter of 2010-2011, my yard was so badly in shambles I felt like moving to a new house would be easier than cleaning up.

Because optimal yard-work days are few and far between, most of us marathon-clean when the opportunity arises. But beware — long days in the yard are often followed by long days of being laid up on the couch with an injury.

So if you’ve just filled your gas containers, organized the garden shed and stocked up on lawn bags, here are some things to remember to help you avoid getting injured before the season starts.

Setting out lawn and patio furniture may require heavy lifting. Whenever possible, grab an extra set of hands to help with awkward or heavy items. Many hands make a healthy back.

Take breaks frequently. Many injuries result from overly tired muscles. When a muscle fatigues, its ability to stabilize a joint or create enough force to accomplish a routine task diminishes considerably. Short rests rejuvenate strength and endurance while preventing injury as much as any other trick.

Change chores whenever possible. Repetitive activities for prolonged times put fragile structures like the rotator cuff and lumbar discs at high risk for damage. Changing tasks also helps prevent repetitive strain injuries in the hands and elbows.

Weeding is perhaps the most dangerous of all the springtime activities; it has the capacity to put more torque through your low back than almost any other chore done at any time of the year. Try loosening the soil with a spade or shovel beforehand – it weakens the roots and reduces your chances of bulging a disc.

Raking is atop the list of dangerous activities, behind weeding. It is notoriously difficult on your elbows and back. Whisking-away entangled shrubbery, leaves and debris might take some elbow grease. Keep at it long enough and all that bending forward will take its toll. Here’s a simple tip — if you live on a hill, rake down; you get extra points if you can get it right into the bag.

Not all the planting needs to be done at once. It must be acknowledged that our planting opportunities are limited by weather during the New England spring, but several consecutive hours of planting puts you at risk for straining muscles, ligaments or other tissues. If you have a lot to do, split it up over the course of a couple weekends by dedicating portions of each day to your chores.


Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to