Prevent lower back pain this 'raking season'

The seasons are changing, and so are the chores!  In the height of “raking season”, more commonly known as the fall, the last thing you want to deal with is lower back pain. The causes of lower back pain are multiple, ranging from an acute traumatic event to performing a repetitive movement. Since life doesn’t always slow down and chores never seem to don’t go away, lower back pain could linger well past the fall if not properly address it. 

The spine is an important structure of the body. Not only does it protect your spinal cord, but a variety of structures such as ligaments and muscles originate or insert on your spine. Just think, without your spine you would not be able to maintain an upright position. When you think of lower back pain, it is important to note that multiple structures of the body may refer pain to this location. Organs such as the kidneys, pancreas, and colon could refer pain to your lower back. Another source of back pain could be an irritation to a nerve, so it is important to touch base with your physician for a proper diagnosis, especially, if you are experiencing back pain at night, changes to your bowel or bladder function, leg weakness, and/ or numbness or tingling.  

When performing outdoor chores, remember to prepare for the activity. Think about warming up your body with gentle trunk rotations or trunk extensions. To further protect your back and prevent irritation, think about the “2 set of 3’s” rule. The first set is: keep your ears over your shoulders, and your shoulders over your hips. That way you are maintaining a neutral spine and placing your body in the best position. The second set is: avoid excessive bending, twisting, and lifting with your spine. Let’s apply this rule to raking. If you keep the rake close to your body, you have a better chance of maintaining a neutral spine. Now, “dance”, if you will, with the rake instead of reaching and twisting, and you could prevent unnecessary forces that could result in injury. We also must not forget to make time for periods of rest during the activity as well.  Listen to your body and try to take rests in frequent intervals when you feel it is needed. In terms of exercises to prevent a lower back injury, you want to think about strengthening and maintaining flexibility. Focus on strengthening your core and maintaining flexibility in your hamstrings and hip flexors. For example, focus on the transverse abdominis muscle first instead of doing a standard sit-up.  A standard sit-up places high loads on your spine. In order to properly strengthen the transverse abdominis think about if you were putting on a really tight pair of pants. Draw your stomach in, but do not suck in your stomach, and hold for 10 seconds and then repeat. 

One of the most impactful things you can do to prevent some form of injury is to modify how you are performing activities by listening to your body, and to think about the “2 sets of 3’s” rule when you’re outdoors.

Dr. Smith is an Advanced Clinician I at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Center City Outpatient clinic JeffFit. He is a guest contributor on Sports Doc.


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