Do-it-Yourself projects may be preventing you from breaking the bank, but if you’re not careful, doing your own work could “break” your back. As an upside to the economic downturn over the past year, we’ve become a nation of do-it-yourselfers. More people are getting their hands dirty and doing work themselves; many homeowners are diving into doing their own yard work, minor repairs and even taking on large projects. But doing DIY projects yourself requires a bit of caution to prevent injuries, particularly those related to the back. This is especially important for those folks not used to doing heavy work on a routine basis…us weekend warriors!
Here are a few of the most common things you need to do to protect your back and save those dollars for the hardware store:
Assess the weight. Be cautious and use proper technique when lifting anything by checking the weight of the object first. While some building materials, such as cement, are sold by weight, other products such as lumber and landscaping rocks are not, and so you need to carefully test the weight before committing yourself to lifting it. You’ll also need to test the weight of other objects such as heavy tree branches, large paint containers, and anything you’re tearing out or installing. Ask your friends and neighbors for help, and let them know you will be there for them, as well.
Lift properly. Never bend from the waist while lifting. Instead, lower your body by bending your knees, keeping your back straight. Squat in front of the object you will be lifting, then stand up by unbending your knees, holding the object close to your body. Maintain a steady, slow lifting motion. Never jerk to get a ‘head start’ on something really heavy and do not twist your body.
- If you’re lifting a shipping box, such as that new patio set, make sure the contents are secure. If the weight inside will shift and become unbalanced, you need a helper.
- If you need to lift something over your head, such as a ceiling fan, use a ladder. Get as close to the object as possible, and slide it towards you if you can. Don’t reach out for the load to lift or hold it up – keep your back straight.
- Don’t depend on a back belt and think you can break the rules by wearing one.
Shovel with care. A load of dirt in your shovel can be heavier than you think, and a lot of repetition from planting a dozen shrubs in the yard can end with a restless sleep due to back pain. To shovel properly, keep your torso straight with your pelvis tilted up. Tighten your abdomen, bend your knees, and lift a small amount at a time.
Don’t pull or yank on stuck object. Back injuries are often caused by yanking or pulling objects to free them, such as tree roots, dead shrubs and fence posts. The best preventive measure is patience – dig a little more to free the object instead of trying to force it. Consider using a winch set-up to extract deeply seated objects, such as fence posts.
Identify and avoid what can make you trip or fall. Take care to wear clothes that are comfortable and not restrictive, but won’t catch onto something and make you lose your balance. Double-knot your shoes so you don’t trip while carrying a load. Avoid or be careful on wet or uneven surfaces, such as a steep hill or rooftop. Keep the workplace clean and orderly. Make sure ladders and scaffolding are on firm ground and steady, perhaps held by a helper. If you’re not sure about it, don’t do it! Professionals don’t take chances, and neither should you.
If you drop something really heavy, let it fall. Hopefully, you got yourself a helper and don’t need this advice. But if you do drop something heavy, the sudden motion of catching the object could cause serious damage to your spine. Let it go and deal with the consequences, rather than risk a serious back injury.
Try not to work for long periods of time in a stooped or awkward position. Take some time before the project to arrange your workspace so you can sit or stand comfortably while doing your project. When gardening, sit on a mat or short stool rather than stay on your knees bending forward for long periods of time…your lower back doesn’t like that!
Get in shape before you take on projects and pace yourself when you work. Exercise regularly and get your body into shape before taking on heavy DIY physical activity, such as putting in a landscape or building a deck. Like an athlete before a game, stretch your legs and your back before you begin work.
Remember, regardless of the size of the project, work safely.
If you’d like additional tips or insights from Dr. Jack Zigler, please don’t hesitate to contact me.