Summer Mowing — Avoiding Back Pain and Shoulder Tweaks
You are mowing your lawn just like you do once (sometimes even twice!) a week now that the weather is getting warm. You get off your rider lawn mower and you realize your back is super tight. Or you pull to start your push lawn mower and tweak your shoulder. Sound familiar? The back pain or shoulder pain is annoying at the very least. At worst, it could set you back for weeks!
Ergonomics and warming up for mowing your lawn is not something most people think of when they roll out their mower, but it can make a huge difference in how you feel afterwards. The first thing you will want to do is get your body warmed up. Muscles and joints perform at their most optimal when they are warm and have good blood flow going to them. Here are a few stretches and tips to review before getting to work!
Riding Lawn Mower Ergonomics and Lower Back Stretches
Ask any farmer—sitting on a tractor can cause back pain! Riding lawn mowers can have the same effect on your back, especially if you don’t warm up before you begin. Before hopping on your riding lawn mower, here are a few good stretches to prepare your muscles:
Adjusting Riding Mower Seat to Avoid Back Pain
Now that you are warmed up and stretched out, let's look into some mowing ergonomics. Take a look at your seat. Lawn mower manufacturers are starting to improve the lumbar support and adjustability, so if you have an adjustable lumbar support, ensure that it’s hitting the right spot in your low back. The lumbar support should hit right in the small of the low back where it starts to curve in.
If you don’t have an adjustable lumbar support or there is absolutely no lumbar support, there’s still a solution. Take a beach towel or long towel and roll it up. Test and adjust it while sitting in your seat to get the towel into the small of your back. Once you have it in a good spot, use duct tape to secure it. If you’re having trouble figuring out where to place the towel, check out this video: How to Relieve Low Back Pain While Driving
You will also need to check the distance of your seat to the steering wheel or lap bars and pedals. The seat should be in a spot that allows for a small bend in your knees, your heels to rest comfortably, and for the balls of your feet to push the pedals. This will help reduce knee, hip, and low back aches and pains.
Maintain Good Mowing Posture
Now that you have your seat adjusted, maintaining good posture will be much easier and more comfortable. For good posture, your hips are scooted all the way back in the seat, then imagine a string going up through your spine through your head pulling you up. Maintaining this posture at first will be difficult, so check your posture throughout your mow time.
Warm Up Before Starting a Push Mower
Starting a push mower that has a pull start can, at times, cause issues for our shoulders and back. This is where the warm up before mowing can be extremely beneficial. If you were to try to pull-start a lawn mower without warming up, you are more likely to tweak muscles that weren’t prepared for the explosive movement and torque.
Many people pull-start a lawnmower with one arm. This can be a lot of strain on the shoulder. Instead, try pulling with two hands. You will want to keep your core tight to protect your back, because there will be a twisting motion through your trunk. Repeat each of these stretches 10-15 times or hold 10-15 seconds.
Push Mower Posture Tips
You want to be close enough to the mower so that you are able to stand up tall, have a small bend in your elbows and wrists as straight as possible. Ideally, you will want to keep the mower centered with your body to reduce repetitive twisting as well as keeping both hands on the push bar. To protect your back even more, you will ideally want to push rather than pull the mower so that your stronger, larger leg muscles are doing most of the work rather than your shoulders and back.
Avoiding Strains from a String Trimmer
Lastly, when using a weed whip, aka string trimmer, you will want to keep it as close to your body as possible to reduce strain and fatigue. Apply the same concepts of good posture, standing up tall and keeping your core tight. This will protect your back from back strain.
Summer Lawn Work Tips Review
Warm up and stretch before using any lawn equipment, including riding mowers
Adjust the seat for lumbar support
Pull-start a mower using both hands
Stay close to the mower or trimmer
Keep your core engaged
Stand up tall
Have a slight bend in elbows with wrists as straight as possible
Keep push mower centered with your body
Push rather than pull the mower
With any lawn care equipment and other garden tools like hedge trimmers and edgers, a lot of vibration travels through your body—especially your hands. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome or numbness and tingling in your hands and fingers, you can try wearing vibration reducing gloves. These specialized gloves are designed to absorb some of the shock to help avoid these symptoms.
Backaches and shoulder pain do not have to be part of mowing your lawn. Avoid the back pain and shoulder tweaks — apply these tips to help keep you safe and feeling good this summer!
Want more lower back care recommendations from physical therapists? Watch our Low Back Care Series!