Diminishing Returns — Busting Backaches by R. Ann Parris for Preppergroups.com
As we get older, or if we’re working through an injury or its after effects or are ill, being able to work efficiently has an enormous impact in how much we can get done. Since so many things already take extra time, and we’re already commonly limited in one way or another, adding extra strain only further diminishes the returns we see.
And, as we get older, we’ll see those returns diminish further still the next day due to our (lack of) recovery time.
There are some fairly simple steps to help decrease the next-day backaches and significantly reduces the risks of injuring ourselves — the latter of which especially applies to everyone, not just seniors and others who face limiting factors, and will apply even more during any form of disaster, whether we’re battening down the hatches to weather a storm like job loss, or trying to prep for an actual rain-and-wind storm, or A Big Thing has altered life for the whole region or country.
Back savers can absolutely be a double-edged sword. It’s something a number of us from the forum have noticed: We’re trying to take care of our bodies, trying to work smarter not harder, and, poof, turns out, we realize we’ve lost a lot of strength in the process.
Put them in place anyway. One, many maximize efficiency as well as reducing that injury risk, and being hurt when you’re already compromised one way or another is only going to slow things further. Two, once actual work is done, using things from around every home or yard, we can maintain and build strength deliberately, in a controlled setting and — most importantly — in correct body position. Yes, it takes more time, but it’s also safer (see ‘being hurt when you’re already compromised’ above).
Work Smarter Not Harder
Correct heights for work, whether it’s a stool or modifying a counter with something as simple as a sturdy box, lower the strain on our body. Our lower backs are where we’re most likely to feel it if we’re bent or standing at an uncomfortable angle, but we’re also commonly straining our necks, wrists, and elbows.
Having a proper height also applies to things that are too tall for us. We can use that sturdy box to gain height again, but, man, be really careful that you don’t step off the edge of it, particularly with a saw or canning load. We do not want to have to explain how we hurt ourselves trying to keep from hurting ourselves.
Having the right height for comfortable, stable repetitive work applies to manual vehicles we use in the house and yard, too.
Extending the haul straps or handle lengths on wagons, skidding claws, and sleds — or tow straps we’re using drag something like a log or bale without the benefit of a vehicle — lets us pull from more upright and comfortable and safe position. We can extend any handles laterally or add horizontal handles to work with a partner easier and share that load.
We can also modify some things to work with a chest-shoulder harness for dragging (or to back away with or hold in position with our legs and body weight, not our arms), allowing us to be upright and facing safe directions versus all the pressure being on our hands and arms.
Don’t forget to address other types of handles for comfortable-height work, from indoor sweepers and brooms to outdoor hoes, axes, and limbing saws.
(Diameter or any handles can also commonly be addressed to find a perfect fit for our hands, lowering the strain on those hands, especially if we’re courting or already under the control of arthritis.)
Arranging our lives for smaller loads is a whole topic on its own, but plays a huge role in how much we can get done as our body is compromised, whether it’s age or injury or illness, and how long we can do it. The lower the weight, the more repetitions it takes, but the less strain there is on the body.
Jacks, pulleys & come-alongs are also handy aids that can lower the strain of labor and help keep us in better positions to avoid injury. There are also times they make labor possible, period — versus “just” making it easier.
Depending on what we’re moving, even though it adds time and activities, it may very well be useful to snag some of our handy jacks to break something out for us or lift it to a less back-aching height that decreases the chances of injury.
Pulleys that increase the experienced force on something or allow us to get a good angle for leverage can also be handy, and sometimes incredibly fast to set up depending on our exact conditions and how readily at hand things like our tow straps are.
Likewise, ratchet style come-along’s have uses far beyond helping a beef or jeep out of a sticky spot.
They and jacks can make it safer and easier to drop trees, haul logs, and combined with a pulley lift things for us so we’re just directing where it goes (make sure your come-along or jack allows for controlled release if you opt to use it like a mini crane; many just relax and let go, which can result in a bigger disaster than climbing and lifting by hand would have).
*Fun thing: Some ratcheting tie-down straps are sturdy enough to perform functions similar to a come-along for light loads, and can be even more ideal for tasks like keeping pressure on something until we can tack it in place, versus moving cinder blocks or perfectly positioning lumber scrap, or trying to hold with a knee and elbow while contorting like a gymnast to secure it.
Moving aids make things easier, and much safer.
They reduce the risk that we push too hard and pop something, and in many cases can help prevent imbalance. Some also make it possible for people who need a hand for a cane or crutch (or two) or who are in a wheelchair to move things on their own or assist with moving loads as common as groceries and rearranging furniture, out to wood and charcoal for cooking or heating and hauling transplants and amendments to gardens.
Some of our options for making things easier to move are sliced-up cardboard or foam-plastic slider cups for furniture, dollies and hand trucks, indoor-outdoor carts for groceries and garden supplies and working surfaces, and choosing a four-wheeled garden cart or wagon instead of a wheelbarrow.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better. That, too, is a whole topic of its own — particularly when it comes to aging and other causes of diminishing returns — but being able to lift and move reasonable sizes to stack onto a cart and move them all at once, then unload, saves a lot of back-and-forth steps and the time it takes to do all that backing and forthing.
By elevating our target surface some, it also significantly decreases the up-down and both the overuse and acute injuries (as well as general aches and pains).
The primary benefit to a four-wheeled cart over a wheelbarrow is that we just push or drag it — we don’t add lifting to the labors required. Wheelbarrows that have two wheels instead of one wheel, even if they’re fairly close together, also help ease work and reduce risk of injury. Because they stay more balanced, we’re typically not exerting extra energy (and risking a slip or just a tweaked back) keeping them on path and hoisting the load as well as shoving it anywhere.
Ideally, we pick a garden wagon that helps us further, either functioning much like a wheelbarrow like this Gorilla dump cart or with drop-down or removable panels like this one or even plastic or wooden kiddie wagons that will let you remove the sides so you can just scoot something off of it or limit some of the lifting (versus having to lift to clear the sides as well as lower it).
Sleds are also an option for many places — even the hollow plastic kiddie snow sleds can be handy.
They’re not restricted to snow and ice. They readily slide over even somewhat gnarly roots and calf-high grasses, they work in the woods really well once brush has died back and they go over wet leaves like a champ, I tend to find them easier in muddy areas and they don’t do as much turf damage as narrow wheels in tilled or wet lawns, and they can be a lot easier than even wide wheels if you’re dealing with large round rock or sandy areas.
On the topic of moving things around, the next time a riding mower or small tractor is getting replaced, or if there’s a handy gator or ATV, look into carts and wagons and drags/sleds for those as well as the manual options — and universal and easily-manipulated connection joints for them.
Carts and wagons that allow us to get them into a variety of positions and keep them there safely and securely offer a lot of advantages, and while there’s sometimes a tradeoff in accessibility due to size and space, sometimes that motorized vehicle option lets us back in and pin a cart somewhere like a swale that can get us closer yet — saving still more steps and especially on hills, fall injuries and tweaked back risks from slipping.
Being able to limit bending and work easier is a big boost all on its own.
It makes it easier and less painful to accomplish our tasks, keeping us fitter and more able to accomplish other tasks, and it commonly helps us work just a little faster.
It’s just as crucial that for many things, getting items that better fit our heights — and that as such limit how much sway and work we’re doing, and let us better maintain ideal body position while we work — helps prevent injuries.
Take some time to think about and game plan a bad back, arm/hand, knee/ankle, or bronchitis/asthma. Especially if we have people and animals counting on us, or we need that wood and garden produce and wild game, some back and body savers are well worth the prep.