After months of chilly weather, the spring and summer months beckon us outside. Of course for homeowners, that usually means surveying one’s home, then creating a list of what is oftentimes a long list of outdoor projects. Whether it’s power washing the garage, building a new deck, painting the storage shed, or simple landscaping tasks such as mowing the grass, each one has the potential to physically challenge those who have spent the past few months living a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Still, by working smart and being thoughtful about one’s actions, it’s possible to avoid some of the pitfalls that often come with manual labor, like back pain.

Pace Yourself

It’s often been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect to get all your outdoor projects done in one day either. Plan to take periodic breaks and be sure to stay well-hydrated. Although it may be tempting just to power through to “get the project done,” one finished project will be little consolation if it means spending subsequent months recovering from back pain.

Strategic Sitting

Many people love to plant new flowers and other types of greenery during the spring and summer months, and of course, there are always weeds to keep under control. These types of tasks often encourage people to assume risky positions such as bending directly from the waist to pull weeds or to plant a row of bulbs. A better way to accomplish these types of tasks is to sit down on a small bucket or stool and work from a closer vantage point. Remember also to take frequent breaks from bending over to sit up straight with shoulders back and your head in a neutral position.

Move Thoughtfully

When using a tool such as a push lawn mower, a shovel, or a rake, it’s important to remain reasonably close to the tool. Oftentimes, people will push a lawnmower from a position where the mower is very far away from them, or they begin raking with a long stretching motion, or they stand on a ladder and attempt to paint a section far away from their neutral position. These types of moves cause a person to remain in a bent over and/or awkward position for an extensive period. By keeping a tool reasonably close to the body, it allows a person to remain in a mostly upright position, thus putting less stress on the back, the neck, and the upper body.

Smart Lifting to Avoid Back Pain

Certain tasks such as building a deck, or applying topsoil or mulch require one to repeatedly lift heavy objects. By far, lifting heavy objects is the number one task that can lead to injury, so it’s important to work smart when required to do these types of tasks.

If you know you are prone to back pain, ask for assistance at the store when loading mulch, topsoil, or lumber into your vehicle. At home, again, use the principles of pacing yourself and moving thoughtfully while working on projects that involve heavy objects. If possible, move your vehicle close to your project rather than carrying heavy bags of topsoil or mulch to your worksite. If you get close enough, you may be able to simply open the bags, then use a bucket to apply the mulch or soil where you need them.

A wheelbarrow or a dolly on wheels can also come in handy if you must transport heavy materials from your vehicle to areas around the home. Don’t overload these items either, however. It’s much better to make multiple trips carrying less weight than to risk sore muscles or worse yet, an injury that can prevent you from doing any outside work for the rest of the summer.

Reminder for Proper Lifting Mechanics

Sooner or later, outside projects almost always require at least some basic lifting motions, so it’s important to review and follows the principles of good lifting mechanics, especially if you are prone to any of the following

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Hip pain
  • Neck pain
  • Knee pain

Proper lifting mechanics includes breaking down a task into manageable sections, especially if you are prone to weakness in your knees, hips, or back. Next, stand as close as reasonably possible to the object you want to lift, then keeping your back and neck as straight as possible, bend from the knees, and lift the object with both hands. Straighten your knees and keep the object close to your body while carrying it to its destination. Bending the knees again, carefully set the object down to avoid back pain.


If you’d like more tips on how physical therapy can help you stay safe all season long, please contact Cawley Rehab at 570-208-2787.