The days grow shorter, the leaves continue to fall, and homeowners are busy with outdoor cleanup. It’s time for rakes, leaf blowers, ladders, chain saws, and mowers – and the possibility of pain and injury they can cause.
Common fall cleanup tasks can cause muscle strain, back pain, repetitive motion injuries, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, accidents and other injuries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 42 million people seek emergency room treatment for such injuries each year.
Lou Paradise, pain management expert and president and chief of research at Topical BioMedics, offers the following safety tips for avoiding accidents and injuries this fall.
1. Warm up, cool down, and pace yourself: Walk and stretch before you exert yourself to help prevent your shoulders, neck and back from being strained. When you’re done, gentle stretches will help relieve muscle tension. Take breaks to stretch your muscles, and drink plenty of water to make sure you stay hydrated.
2. Dress appropriately: Lightweight, natural fibers provide warmth without trapping sweat. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect your skin from scratches, bugs and sun. Wear sturdy shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles to prevent injuries and minimize the risk of falling.
3. Wear appropriate accessories for the chore: Safety glasses to keep eyes protected from flying dirt and debris; earmuffs, a hard hat and steel mesh face visor when using a chain saw; gloves and a face mask when handling chemicals (such as lawn fertilizer and insect poison). Be mindful to keep chemicals away from children and pets.
4. Rakes: Use one that is comfortable for your height and strength, and look for ergonomic handles. If the rake handle isn’t padded, wear gloves to prevent blisters.
5. Use proper posture and movements: When raking, switch sides often to prevent overworking certain group of muscles. Never throw leaves over your shoulder or to the side, which puts undue stress on your back. When picking up leaves, bend at the knees – not the waist.
6. Do not overfill leaf bags: And remember, wet leaves are especially heavy. To avoid injury, you should be able to handle bags comfortably, without straining.
7. Take safety precautions when climbing a ladder: According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2008 approximately 539,000 people went to the doctor, the ER or the hospital because of a ladder injury. Make sure your ladder is in good repair with no loose screws, hinges or rungs. Place it on a firm, level surface, angled approximately 75 degrees from the ground and check to be sure it’s fully open and locked. When climbing, wear shoes with nonslip soles and ask someone to hold the ladder in place. Always face toward it when climbing and descending, and never sit or stand above the level indicated by the manufacturer.
Healing Therapy Tips
• Hot and cold therapy will shorten the duration of the recovery so pains and injuries can heal faster, as is a topical natural pain lotion.
• Ice is the first course of action, particularly in the first day or two, to help with inflammation. Ice stops the blood flow, and when removed releases fluids and toxins, stimulates lymphatic and toxin draining and more blood flow. Basic procedures for ice therapy: 10 minutes on; five off; 10 on, five off.
• Two to three days after injury, try using heat on the injured area. You’ll know it’s OK to continue if you don’t feel worse afterward. Heat draws more blood to the area and removes toxins.
• Alternating cold and heat can be very powerful when used together at this point. The most effective protocol takes about 45 minutes: Start with heat for 10 minutes, followed by a five-minute break; then cold for 10 minutes, followed by a five-minute break; then heat again for 10 minutes.
For severe pain and swelling, seek medical attention.