Spring Cleaning: Viva Variety

Depending on what time of day I check the weather, spring is either just around the corner or months away. Regardless, its going to warm-up sometime soon, and that means people will be bursting outdoors to start raking, planting, and trimming around their yards and gardens.

It usually takes about 2-3 nice weekends for the trickle of sore backs, shoulders, necks, and elbows to begin to flow into our physical therapy office. Almost universally, one of the first things I hear when I ask what brought on patient’s current malady is some version of ‘I spent 9 hours on my hands and knees on Saturday, and on Sunday I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but it was just so nice to be outside’.

I’ve written several of these pre-spring clean-up columns in the past several years with the same advice, but I’ve got a feeling that this year is going to be different. This is the year that my readers are going to plan ahead and have a pain-free spring. So, before you need to pay your physical therapist a visit due to a new ache or pain, join me in making this year different!

Viva Variety

There isn’t anything inherently risky about the movements we perform when working in the yard and garden. Instead, it often comes down to a matter of volume (repetitions). If you’re a regular exerciser, I’ll put it this way: not every day can be shoulder day. The best way to prevent repetitive strain injuries like bursitis and tendonitis is to change the type of activity you are performing every hour or two.

Do some planting on your hands and knees for a bit, go rake some grass, then grab a few pieces of deck furniture. The next thing you know it will be lunch time. Rotating between those tasks will help you avoid straining your muscles and tendons by avoiding any single movement for too long.

Warm it up

There are several movements commonly performed during yard work that are out of the ordinary for most people’s daily routine. The repetitive twisting while raking and the prolonged forward bending while working in the garden or flower beds are two good examples. Our bodies are not as conditioned to these movements, so we are more susceptible to injury when performing them.

To reduce the chance of injury, take a page from a sports team’s book. We don’t think twice about doing some light cardio and stretching before engaging in other athletic activities, and yard work should be no different. A great way to start the day would be with a brisk 5-15 minute walk and some stretches that move several body parts at the same time. This will help prepare your muscles and tendons for the day ahead.

Its as easy as that. I hope that this is just the motivation you need to start your spring cleaning off on a healthy note. Remember, this year is going to be different!

Jeff Samyn is a Physical Therapist, board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. He can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.