Throughout the nation we are seeing a rise in in the implementation and extension of stay-at-home orders to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. This is leading to more people trying to find something to fill their time. Increasingly this is taking the form of projects that had been postponed or long forgotten. However, this increase in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects is leading to something else – new injuries! There are increasing reports in Europe, the UK and the USA of neck, back and even eye injuries (remember to wear those safety goggles!). So if you are going to attempt some home repair or a new landscaping project, let’s go over a few things.
Let’s be better at planning
A big contributing factor to quarantine injuries is a lack of planning, and we are not talking about how much mulch to buy! Any time we plan on a strenuous physical task we need to plan our warm up and body mechanics. A professional athlete does not go on the court or field without a warm up – and you should not be moving landscaping blocks or painting without a preparation either.
- The basics are important: Remember to be adequately hydrated and have all appropriate safety equipment in place (ex. goggles, gloves, etc.).
- Next, we need to get the body moving. It is wise to consider your problem areas: Are your hamstrings always tight? Do you tend to have back pain? Target your stretching and activity to those areas. There is a lot of controversy surrounding static (held) vs. dynamic (moving) stretches to reduce injury rate, but remember than in most cases a light stretching regimen is adequate. Remember that stretching should be just that – stretching – and not super painful!
- Finally, consider some light cardiovascular activity such as a walk prior to starting your task.
Body mechanics and rest breaks are key
Any good project has some lifting, reaching or bending in it! Whether it is lifting light weights repeatedly, heavy weights occasionally, or some combination, we need to be aware of how our body is moving. Most mechanics are good at the beginning of a project, but tend to fade as we get tired. First, it is good to review the basics of appropriate lifting of a weight from a low position (ie. the ground). Below is a slide show from the Mayo Clinic reviewing variations in lifting form. Next we need to plan rest breaks. Many DIY’ers tend to get tunnel vision on their new patio or pantry project and work for too long. Remember that not all soreness and pain happens during an activity – we need to plan rest breaks to allow our bodies a chance to recover. This will ensure that you can use good lifting mechanics throughout the project!
How Therapists Can Help
Your local physical therapist can be a huge help in developing an appropriate stretching program and work on appropriate lifting/moving mechanics. The first goal would be to complete a movement assessment to determine problem areas due to tightness, weakness, coordination, or some combination of those. Your PT can review modes of stretching that might be appropriate for you (ex. static vs. dynamic vs. combo) and progress you through a strengthening program aimed at helping you tackle those DIY projects. If you already have pushed the envelope a bit too far, your PT can be a great resource for recovery and rehabilitation!
Remember that during these times many PT clinics are also offering Telehealth services, so you don’t even need to leave your house!
Everyone is stuck at home, and that is going to mean some increase in at-home injuries. However, we can reduce this substantially but planning for a reasonable warm up, taking safety precautions, and ensuring we use good body mechanics throughout our project. Remember that taking breaks is key for the body to recover! If you do get injured, call your local PT and let’s get working to get you back to those projects!
Written by Matthew Winkle, PT, DPT, OCS, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Orthopedic Clinical Specialist