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Notes on Safe Gardening and Yard Work

By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor

If you are anything like me, and you do your own lawn and garden work, then summer is a frenzy of raking, mowing, digging, planting, wood cutting and a host of other menial, satisfying, and necessary chores. That being said, just because we either have to, or want to, do things that our bodies are often ill-prepared for, does not mean we need to hurt ourselves in the process. And when I say “hurt”, I mean a range of insults from blisters to amputated limbs. Herewith is a list of helpful tips to keep you healthy and in one piece as you garden and do lawn work.

Let’s start with the heat. It is currently hot as Hades out there, and it is very easy to get dehydrated and suffer heat-related injury. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and replenishing electrolytes (minerals like sodium and potassium). Something as simple as putting a pinch of salt in your water and taking some additional potassium, in tablet form, can make a big difference. Wear a hat, preferably one of those wide-brimmed affairs that keep sun off your face and neck. Need I mention that sunscreen might be a good idea.

Mowing is something that most of us who do lawn care are forced to do. I personally enjoy it. To begin with, make sure that your mower is in good repair and your blades are well sharpened. Be sure to wear good shoes if you are walking. I personally prefer old, leather golf shoes that give me lots of grip on the hills around my house. Nothing worse than slipping and losing toes, or worse. I also recommend that you use hearing protection and, if you are string trimming (weed wacking), eye protection. Once you destroy the little hair cells in your inner ear, they are gone for good, and you cannot regain your hearing. Flying projectiles are also not good for your eyes. If you are cutting and trimming or, for that matter, doing anything in tall grass or brush, it is a good idea to wear long pants and tuck the hem into your socks. Ticks are very heavy this year, and with ticks come the potential for Lyme’s disease (definitely something to avoid).

When shoveling and raking I would recommend that you get a long enough handled implement so that you limit the amount of bending you do at the waist. There is no sense wrecking your back for the sake of a silly trench. When raking, I would suggest you use your legs more, moving back and forth in a lunge type of movement, rather than just twisting and bending with your feet planted. Once again, this can be a real back saver.

I would like to mention a bit about the use of a chainsaw. Even experienced wood-cutters can get hurt. All it takes is a lapse of attention, a slip on uneven terrain, or a bar kicking back at you. I am particularly sensitized to this one because an acquaintance of mine, an experienced wood cutter, almost lost a leg and bled to death because of a mere slip. Once I heard about what happened to him I, as a relatively inexperienced cutter, decided to invest in some gear. Gloves and heavy boots are a must, and so are chaps that will stop a blade if, for whatever reason, you happen to touch a moving blade to your leg. Kevlar chaps are not that expensive and might just keep you in one piece, literally. I would also suggest that you wear a helmet, and use both hearing and eye protection. Then, of course, there is situational awareness and knowing what you can and what you should not cut. Never cut above your shoulders and avoid cutting with the tip of the saw (to avoid kickback). Make sure when you are bucking logs or branches that you are aware of how to keep pressure off the blade as you cut. This is a matter of knowing when to over-buck (cut from the top), under-buck (cut from the bottom), or some combination. Suffice it to say that it is a good idea to learn the basics. There are many online resources. One that I just looked at is www.thehemloft.com/proper-chainsaw-techniques.

No discussion of staying safe and healthy while gardening and doing yard work would be complete without telling you that there will be times when, despite your best efforts, you strain your back, neck, knee or shoulder, and that is the time to see a chiropractor. We specialize in getting people back on the field or, in this case, back in the field. Do not hesitate to call any of the doctors at Chiropractic Health and Wellness for advice or assistance. We are here to help you enjoy and get the most out of your short time in the sun.

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