March 24, 2021

Protect your back with these five tips.

This time of year, we’re busy beautifying our yards after winter has wreaked its havoc, and prepping our gardens for bountiful summer and fall produce. But all that raking, weeding and planting can take its toll on our backs. These tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and from Byron Stephens II, M.D., a Vanderbilt Spine Center specialist with Vanderbilt Orthopaedics, will help you stave off back pain year-round:

1. Stretch and strengthen.

Perform back- and core-strengthening exercises and stretches two or three times per week. Practicing various forms of yoga will help you achieve both goals in one sitting, but you can also try combination stretching and strengthening classes at the gym or simply lift weights and stretch afterward. Having a strong and flexible back will help prevent strains during strenuous activity.

2. Mind your posture.

No matter what you are doing, sit or stand up straight. If you work at a desk all day, make sure your chair offers lumbar support. Stand, walk around and stretch every 20 minutes to increase circulation and prevent muscles from getting tight. While performing yardwork, take frequent breaks to stand up straight and take note of overworked muscles.

3. Bend at the knees.

Whether working in the garden or just taking out the trash, remember to let your legs do the heavy lifting. Avoid bending over at the waist. Stretch quads and hamstrings frequently. Tight leg muscles can pull on your back muscles and cause pain.

Bending over for prolonged periods of time, lifting heavy objects and twisting the back are the yard-work moves that cause the most back problems, Stephens said. Bending at the knees and letting your legs power you to a stand is much kinder to your back.

4. Stay active and healthy.

The healthier you are, the healthier your back will be. Eating a balanced diet — with plenty of produce from that garden — and getting regular cardiovascular exercise keeps off excess weight and burns calories.

5. Lose those extra pounds.

If you are overweight, work with a nutritionist and a trainer to eliminate the extra pounds and take a load off your back.

If your back is sore after a sudden burst of outdoor activity, Stephens said, you can get some immediate relief by using ice packs on the overworked muscles, taking some acetaminophen and other over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen.

Woman in silhouette, bending over to touch her palms to the floor.

If you are dealing with an injury, facing surgery or coping with chronic pain, Vanderbilt Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of care. Our specialists work with you from evaluation and “prehab” through physical therapy and, if needed, surgery. We’ll help you get back to doing the things you love, pain-free. To make an appointment, call 615-936-7846.

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