Can you dig it? How to take the strain out of physical...

Can you dig it? How to take the strain out of physical tasks


Bad news for gardeners – the Royal Horticultural Society has been watching you dig, and it is appalled by what it sees. In conjunction with biomechanics experts in Coventry University, it has just issued a warning that reaching too far with your spade when digging can double the load on your joints, increasing the risk of chronic back pain. It’s apparently much better to simply move closer to where you want to be, and to bend with your knees rather than your back.

But, while you’re here, here are a few more things you might be doing wrong.

Lifting heavy items

A million cases of musculoskeletal disorders are reported by British workers each year, many of them caused by the incorrect lifting of heavy objects. As NHS Choices states, your best bet is to keep your back straight, bend at the knees and keep the load as close to your waist as possible for as long as you can. Most importantly, though, you should be aware of your own limitations. Singlehandedly hauling a piano up the stairs might be impressive for a few seconds, but it won’t be so funny if you knacker your back.

Chopping wood

People have been chopping firewood in the same way for centuries, by smashing an axe against a vertical log. But two years ago, YouTuber CrazyRussianHacker demonstrated a new way, that involved simply resting your log on another laid at a right angle on the ground before you chop lengthways. It’s safer, more stable and much more energy-efficient than the traditional method. And even if you don’t have any wood to chop, it’s still incredibly satisfying to watch a burly Russian man repeatedly hit things with an axe on the internet.

Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal.

Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal. Photograph: Channel 4

Picking up the phone

As the host of Deal or No Deal, Noel Edmonds had to answer the phone constantly. But his chosen method – diving at the receiver overhand – was a fast track to repetitive strain injury. “The phone is pretty heavy and I have to pick it up a dozen times a show,” he said in 2006. “We shoot three shows a day and it got so painful that I could hardly pick the bleeding thing up.” This was cured, in part, by steroids, and in part by altering his lifting technique. From that point onwards, he attacked the receiver with a low underhand swoop, and his pain was history.

Sitting down

Do you like to sit upright at your desk at work? Sorry to say, but you’re doing it wrong. Cornell University ergonomics professor Alan Hedge suggests leaning back in your chair, which reduces compressive force on the back and pelvis, and improves circulation by allowing you to stretch out your legs. Also, remember to move around, because even slouching for long periods of time isn’t great.

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