SIKESTON -- As the warm and sunny weather kicks in, area gardeners and lawn caretakers -- both professional and amateur -- will get down and dirty as they prepare lawns for spring and summer.
For many of them, the seasonal tasks of trimming bushes, moving landscaping brick and planting gardens can result in sore muscles and in some cases, serious injuries.
Dr. Ron Bonfiglio who specializes in physical medicine and rehab for Missouri Delta Medical Center, noted he sees an increase of sprains and strains in patients anytime there's a season change, usually when people are doing things they haven't done in a while.
"A lot of people don't make the connection that lawn work is exercise -- until the next day when they're in pain," Bonfiglio pointed out, adding that he especially sees this with people raking leaves in the fall.
Bonfiglio said what people need to do prior to their lawn and garden work is try to re-establish their flexibility. "Whatever specific type of work you do, try to stimulate it with exercise first," he said.
For example, if someone is going to be on their knees a lot, they need to get more flexible in their hips, thighs and legs, Bonfiglio explained. Deep knee bends and leg squats can help and they need to do that while keeping the back straight, he added.
"These suggestions fit all lifestyles -- whether young and active, middle-aged and not as active or retired," Bonfiglio pointed out.
Warm up by walking around the block a couple of times, advised Amy Gordin, physical therapist and certified athletic trainer for Restart Rehab. Of course, the best way to prevent injury is maintain an active lifestyle, she pointed out.
Also, prepare in advance, Bonfiglio said.
"If you know you're going to plant a garden at the end of March, start now," Bonfiglio suggested. "Do some level surface walking, stretching and moving. Start gradual with five or 10 minutes twice a day -- once early in the morning and again later in the evening."
If planting, put some type of padding between the knees and the ground, Bonfiglio advised, while Gordin recommended using a gardening pull wagon to sit on so people don't have to work bent over.
The most important thing to remember is not bending at their backs, Gordin said. "The back really is intricate and not designed for that. Rather, they should bend at hips and at knees because those joints are designed for that," she said.
"If you're working on landscaping and moving a planter or a big rock, before you move it, tighten your tummy muscles because it keeps the abdominals intact and acts as a back brace," Gordin said.
Taking frequent breaks and changing positions can also help prevent injury, but most importantly, use common sense, Bonfiglio said.
"Don't try to cram six or eight or 10 hours of work into three or four hours. Space it out. If you get to feeling fatigued, you need to listen to your body. And make sure you stay well hydrated, especially as the temperatures heat up," Bonfiglio suggested.
According to Tom Richey, physical therapist for Health Facilities Rehab, in the event of an injury, such as a strain or a sprain, the immediate care would be to apply ice directly to the inflamed area. Cold applied promptly after an injury can slow down or minimize acute inflammation. Crushed ice in a plastic bag, gel ice pack or even a frozen bag of peas can be applied hourly for no longer than 15 minutes at a time.
"Sometimes people think muscle achiness is a benign pain, but then they really hurt themselves," Gordin said.
If a person's injury involves back pain shooting down the leg, tingling or numbness -- and it doesn't go away quickly, it may be a neurological injury, such as a disk or nerve injury, which can be more serious than a strain or sprain, Gordin said.
Anti-inflammatories may also be taken if have a person has a hint of discomfort, Bonfiglio said. However, never mix anti-inflammatories; you can take it with a lunch or evening meal, but never at bedtime, he recommended. Of course, when in doubt, those injured should consult their physician.