Stretch for your Health

After a long Maine winter confined to our homes and restricted by abundant darkness, we now emerge in concert into spring. And as we dutifully grasp our rakes and shovels to wipe the winter from our lawns, we must exercise caution as we exercise our bodies, lest we relegate ourselves to the season’s injured list with unsafe work habits.

Physical therapist Matthew Economy, owner of Therapy Partners in Belfast, recently offered 10 best practices to physically prepare for springtime chores and decrease the possibility of injury.

WARM UP: A simple 10 minute walk (about two songs on your headphones) will help improve muscle, organ and bone health. It will also increase your mobility to decrease the possibility of sprains and strains.

STRETCHING: Although a warm up is physically better than stretching, stretching is still effective and will also help prevent injury. If you plan on being bent over all day—for instance, with gardening or stacking firewood—occasionally place your hands on your hips and do a back bend. This activity will help decrease muscular strains in the lower back.

HYDRATION: Our bodies are 90% water and it’s good to keep it that way. Staying hydrated helps decrease muscle cramps, and while it’s hard to beat drinking straight water, sports drinks such as Gatorade better help replace electrolytes that we sweat out on longer workdays under the hot sun.

TAKE BREAKS: It’s tempting to rush through a task you’d rather be done with, but an injury will further prolong the length of time the chore requires. Force yourself to rest every 20 minutes and allow your heart rate to return to a safer level, especially when engaged in more heavy-duty work.

PLAN YOUR DAY: It’s often been said that if you fail to plan, you can plan to fail. If you have multiple chores, try doing bits and pieces of each throughout the day rather than one at a time. This will help you reduce injury by avoiding putting repetitive stress on areas of your body.

MODERATION: Just as it’s wise to plan your daily activities, it’s equally smart to plan your week or weekend to spread tasks out over multiple days.

PRACTICE SAFE BODY MECHANICS: Fight against your nature to rush by slowing down and taking the time to practice healthful posture. Don’t bend at the waist when lifting. The muscles in your legs are bigger and stronger than the ones in your back, so put them to good use. Also, avoid twisting at the back—instead, turn your whole body when holding an object. If you are going to be kneeling a great deal, such as while gardening, consider using a foam pad.

ASK FOR HELP: It’s humbling to do, but much less humbling than being heavily restricted by injury. Don’t try to be a hero. If you need to lift something heavy, large or awkwardly-shaped, reach out first to someone else for assistance.

NUTRITION: We get our energy for work through food. Eat a healthy and substantial breakfast in the morning to fuel up for your productive day.

QUALITY FOOTWEAR: Wearing a comfortable, supportive pair of shoes or boots will take the stress off your joints and make the rest of your body much happier.

If, despite your best efforts, you experience injury, early treatment can resolve both pain and discomfort. Physical therapy is available by referral through your medical provider. You can also visit a physical therapist without referral, though some provisions may apply. Speak to your primary care provider or a physical therapist for more details.

Regardless of your springtime responsibilities, do your best to keep yourself healthy and productive well into the summer and beyond.

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