orthopedic injuries

Every year, thousands of injuries occur when people are performing yard work.  Because the amount of people who are doing yard work has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought we’d share some information on the most common orthopedic injuries that occur while working in the yard, how best to prevent them, and what to do if you are unfortunately injured while doing yard work.

Most Common Yard Work Injuries

Strained or Pulled Muscles

Consider all of the tasks that involve pulling, bending, and shifting body positions: raking leaves and debris, digging new garden beds, starting the lawn mower or weed eater, pushing a lawn mower or heavy wheelbarrow, bending over to pull weeds, the list could go on and on.  If a muscle group is improperly stretched or inflexible, a strain or pulled muscle can occur.  People of any age, physical build, or fitness level can fall victim to a pulled or strained muscle injury.  The areas of the body that are most prone to pulls and strains are the back (lower and upper), shoulders, and hips.

Ladder Falls

A ladder is often pulled out while doing yard work to trim dead or diseased tree limbs or to clean out the gutters.  Ladder injuries can range anywhere from a mild bruise to broken bones or spinal damage.  Falls and injuries typically occur when a ladder is set up incorrectly, propped up against something unstable, or resting on uneven ground.  Using an old ladder without the proper safety features or extending it further than it should be are also common causes of a ladder injury.  

Lawn Mower Injuries

Mowing the grass is one of the most crucial parts of doing yard work, so working with a lawn mower is inevitable.  Lawn mowers can present a range of safety hazards if not maintained or used properly.  Sharpening the mower’s blades can result in cuts or even amputation of toes and fingers.  Yards often have rocks or other debris that can jam the lawn mower, then shoot out unexpectedly and cause harm to anyone standing in its path.  Furthermore, the engine and exhaust from a lawn mower can reach high temperatures and will cause burns.

Tractor Injuries

Both small utility tractors and large agricultural tractors are common sources of injuries, including muscle strains, bruises, and fractures. Rollovers are the most common source of injury related to tractor use.  A rollover typically occurs when the tractor is driven in hazardous weather conditions or driven across rough, uneven terrain.  Another common source of tractor injury occurs when the mechanical system of the tractor locks up or stops working.  Not using the proper tools or safety precautions to clear up the issue can result in critical injuries to the hands and fingers.

Yard Tool Injuries

Hedge clippers and chainsaws are popular yard tools for trimming bushes, tree limbs, and other parts of the landscape.  Aside from the obvious potential for cuts and amputations, other injuries include muscle cramps, strains, and spasms from handling the tools for long periods of time.

How to Prevent Injuries While Doing Yard Work

Pay Attention and Take Your Time

Just like with any repetitive activity, it is easy to become distracted with one’s thoughts while doing yard work.  Rocks or debris are commonly overlooked, causing trips or falls as well as dangerous projectiles launched by the lawnmower or weed eater.  Uneven ground can also cause ankle or knee injuries.  It is important to take your time when working in the yard, do a walk through to remove debris and flag areas of uneven ground,  and inspect all of your yard tools and perform maintenance before use.

Warm Up Your Body

Strenuous physical activity like pushing a heavy mower or weeding a garden bed will take its toll on muscles and joints.  Warming up the body with light stretching will loosen it up and help make it less susceptible to injury while performing yard work.  We suggest  doing some short 20 second stretches of the major muscle groups including hamstrings, shoulders, hips, and back in addition to moving the hands, wrists, and legs around in order to increase circulation.  

Use Proper Mechanics

Injuries can best be prevented by using the proper form when performing yard work duties.  Most people know they should “lift with their legs, not their back”, but don’t actually put that saying into practice when lifting heavy objects in the yard.  Tightening or bracing the body’s core will help prevent back injuries.  For those who are unable to follow proper mechanics due to poor range of motion, a flexibility program that uses dynamic and static stretching is a great solution.   When performing tasks that involve long periods of postural control like weeding or gardening, it is important to get up frequently, walk around to get the blood flowing, and return to a neutral spine position.

Listen to Your Body

Pushing your body past its limits while performing yard work increases the risk of injury, typically causing knee, wrist, or back pain.  It can also result in mental fatigue, making you less likely to do the job correctly.  Know your body’s limits, take frequent breaks, and outsource tasks that you know you aren’t capable of performing to a lawn care professional.

Wear Proper Work Gear

Many injuries occur in the yard when people think their “little project” doesn’t warrant the use of safety gear.  To avoid injuries, be sure to wear closed-toe shoes that are slip-resistant, long pants and gloves.  Even on a hot summer day, these items can greatly reduce the risk of yard work injury.

Exercise Proper Ladder Safety

Ladder falls can be prevented by assessing the equipment, positioning it properly, and following proper climbing guidelines.  When assessing your ladder, check all the safety features and wipe excess dirt and moisture off of the rungs.  Make sure the ladder is placed on a smooth ground surface and that it is inclined at a safe angle.  Never move the ladder while anyone is standing on it.  When climbing a ladder, always keep three points of your body in contact with the ladder, whether it be two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet.

What to Do if You are Injured While Doing Yard Work

Even with preparation and care, accidents and injuries can still happen while performing yard work.  In the event of an injury, pause what you’re doing and assess the situation.  If there are any cuts or nicks, clean them thoroughly and bandage them up first.  Use an ice pack for any swollen or affected areas.  Take some mild pain relief medication if necessary. 

Some injuries are more severe and require specialized care.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, visiting an emergency room with an injury is not recommended.  Even during times without highly contagious illnesses, visiting an ER with an injury is not ideal due to the long wait times and the fact that they typically refer you to an orthopedic specialist anyway. The team at OrthoExpress specializes in the treatment of a variety of orthopedic injuries and conditions including the most common injuries that occur while doing yard work such as strains, sprains, and fractured bones.  We are safely open 7 days a week, and our wait time is only 12 minutes on average.  Call 205-677-0001 for more information.