4.2.5.2 – Q&A – Back Injuries

QUESTION

Any tips on reducing back strain, would be appreciated. Maybe add an article and video on it? I have recently had back strain and am unsure where exactly it originated from. So bad I have been questioning my (fairly new) career as a gardener in my mid 30s. Would a solution be to wear a harness even for a loop handle machine? Which would you recommend? I would still like to be able to edge lawns wearing it, so it wouldn’t limit movement if I need to change angles.

ANSWER

This has turned out to be a very long answer, but I think it is an important subject that deserves a more detailed answer.

Looking after you back, is something, brush cutter users should take seriously, so take note, as shoulder & lower back pain can be excruciatingly painful and debilitating. I will tell you about my back pain issues, what caused it and how I dealt with it.

With all injuries to the neck, shoulder, back and wrists, it is normally not one thing that causes the injury, but an accumulation of bad habits and usually, it is (the straw that breaks the camels back) that suddenly cause debilitating pain. Brush cutting, I now know, was the cause, but quite often it is something simple like picking up a pen off the floor that is the straw and of cause it is always the straw that gets blamed for the problem. This means, we are often unaware of the real causes of pain. So we continue to unknowingly do damage, especially if you take pain killers to mask that pain.

With a brush cutter, there are three things that cause stress to not only the back, but neck, shoulder, elbow and wrists.

The first is carrying an uneven load to the front or side of you for any length of time, which places a lot of stress on the back, neck, shoulder, elbow and wrist. I see a lot of people on You Tube, using a brush cutter without a harness and sadly this gives new user, the impression that this is how it should be done. Hopefully you will make a more informed decision after read this.

The Second is carrying a load on one shoulder only, for any length of time as this uneven load can cause neck and back issues. A lot of brush cutters are supplied with a simple and cheap sling harness which I think is a big mistake. In my opinion, brush cutters should not be sold with a harness at all, as this would then force the buyer to make a decision on the quality of the harness they choose to buy, based on their age and respect for their own body.

The third is, doing one or both of the above and rotating the spine while under load for an extended period of time. With brush cutting, it is very easy to fall into the habit of moving the machine from side to side, by rotating the back instead of using your arms and legs.

This seems to be especially so, with bicycle handle brush cutters. Which I think is due to the lack of control of the cutting head due to the floating hitch point, so you lock up your arms to get that control. Plus the limited travel that you have to the left, because the left handle bar hits your left leg and so you continue that travel using your back and legs.

In my case, I have suffered two serious back issues that I am fairly sure with the knowledge I have now, was caused by long periods of using line trimmer and brush cutter.

My first back event, happened in the mid 80’s when I used to use one of these electric Weed Eaters for an extended periods of time.

This machine was Invented by George Ballas in Texas, USA and is the predecessor of all line trimmers and brush cutters that we know today. 

After failing to sell his invention to the main garden tool makers at that time, he went on to develop and manufacturer it himself. It is recorded that at the end of his first year of sales, he had sold over a half million dollars worth and by 1977 the business was worth 80 million dollars.

I wish I could say that about the BrushDestructor Blade. Lucky for him, he started in what is called a BLUE OCEAN business, as for many years he had absolutely no competition. The Emerson Electric Company eventually brought him out and continued to sell them under the Weed Eater brand name.

I am not sure how tall Mr Ballas was, but I suspect he was fairly short. He made his electric trimmer to suit his height and for all those that were taller, you had to not only deal with the weight the trimmer, but also adopt a bad posture to even reach the grass you were trimming and sadly forty years later not much has changed.

As great as his invention was and still is, I wonder how many people have suffered back and shoulder injuries as a result of using one.

I used to go out and clear around our steep house block and even though my back got sorer and sorer. I would straighten up and arch my back, backwards ever ten minutes or so to relieve the pain. But because I was stupid, I always kept pushing on until I finished the job.

In my first case, the straw that broke the camels back was picking up an electric drill from under the workbench, something I had done hundreds of times before and then bang my back went out. The pain was unbearable and it took 15 minutes to walk to and get into the car. It took another 15 minutes just to get out of the car at the doctors. After an agonising hour at the doctors, I was sent home with pain killer and told to stay in bed. It took a week of bed rest, but my back did better.

I have always tried to learn from life’s little lessons, so that I did not repeat them. So what did I learn from this.

Always bend your knees, not your back to pick up a heavy object.

My second back event, happened in 2000. I had now progressed to a 22cc Honda 4 stroke brush cutter and of cause I used the simple sling harness that came with that brush cutter. Actually  back then, that was the limit to your choice of harnesses. So I used the supplied sling strap, that placed all the load on one shoulder and I used part movement of my hand, legs and part movement of my back to swing the brush cutter from side to side. Often for extended periods of time and on steep uneven ground.

Of cause I did not realise at the time that it was this continued winding up of the back, while under an overbalanced load that puts a lot of stress on the back. And when you are young, fit and stupid like I was, you put up with the pain and carry on to get the job done. I did anywhere from one to three hours every day after work, depending on the season, because I wanted to get control of our new property and because I enjoyed the exercise after sitting at a computer all day.

In the end, the land around the dam and hillside opposite the house look like a golf course.

Because of the simple sling harness and the short shaft for my height, all those hours were spend bent over in a really bad posture, so that I could use the brush cutter.

At the time, I did not realise that the bodies solution to stopping you from doing more damage to yourself, is to throw some pain at you and if you stupid enough to not listen, it then ramps up the pain dial until you have to stop. But I didn’t stop, I just increased the frequency that I stopped and arched my back backwards to give me some relief. Yep, Stupid.

One day at work, I bent down sideways to pick up a pen that I had knocked on to the floor and bang out it went. The pain was almost unbearable and I was bed ridden for two weeks this time. At the end of the first week, I thought that it was never going to get better and I was beginning to think that I was going to spend the rest of my life in bed.

So what did I learn from this;

Don’t bend down sideways to pick something up.

I now spend a lot of hours hanging onto a brush cutter, to not only clear forestry tracks around the property, but to also test the various models of BrushDestructor blade. During these many hours, often I felt my back getting sore, so I now never go out for more than one tank of fuel at a time. I consider myself very lucky that my back has not had another meltdown, as due to my age now, it would probably be a lot harder to recover from.

Whereas in the past, during the long monotonous hours brush cutting, my engineering brain would wander off designing what ever I was designing at work.  My mind now focuses on how the blade interacted with the medium it is cutting, the interaction between the blade and brush cutter and the interaction between brush cutter and me. It finally dawned on me, how I was punishing my body and it was this understanding that led to searching out the best harness. But even though this harness helps a lot, it wasn’t until I was editing videos of me brush cutting that I realised my bad posture was the problem. It was that realisation, that led to the prototype longer shaft brush cutter and to finally saying goodby to back issues.

As part of my learning process, of the interation of body and machine. I learned that trying to stop pain, by using a pain killers (cutting the wire to the oil warning light), you can end up with permanent long term damage. But thats OK, someone has to pay to put the Back Surgeon’s kids through private school. I learned to not be that person, hopefully you will learn enough by the end of this to say, that this won’t be you either.

So if your job or property size dictates that you have to hang onto a brush cutter for any length of time, than this is what you need to do;

If you have no pain yet;

1 – never, never, never, hang onto a brush cutter without a harness.

2 – Throw away your single strap harness and buy at the very least a double strap harness. If you have a heavy brush cutter, than you will need a harness that transfers some of the weight to your hips.

3 – Train yourself to use your hands and legs to swing the brush cutter from side to side. This will take some practice, because you won’t even be aware that you are winding you back unless you watch a video of yourself.

If you already have back pain;

1 – I am not a doctor, so you can only take what I say as a suggestion, but if at all possible you should stop or at least reduce pain medication. (Keep that wire cut to the oil warning light and you will eventually seize the engine). I am sure, you would not continue to drive your car, if its engine warning light came on, don’t continue to push your body, unless of cause you are stupid like I was.

2 – Learn all there is to know about back and shoulder issues, so that you can make informed decisions about your own health. I recommend starting buy watching one or more of these videos by Dr John Bergman. He has a way of explaining how the Human Machine works in a way that a non medical person can understand.

For Back issues;

For Shoulder issues;

Dr Bergman has lots of other videos on a lot of other health issues with the body. I recommend that you take the time to watch more of them, learn how to keep your personal biological machine working and away from the medical system and subscribe to his channel.

Dr. Bergman’s You Tube Channel  –     https://www.youtube.com/user/johnbchiro

Dr Bergman is one of my mentors I try and emulate, for explaining how the mechanical machine works, in an easy to understand way.

3 – Locate a good chiropractor and work with them to help the body heal, sorry, REPAIR ITSELF from a stress injury. By law, only a doctor is allowed to heal your body. Trauma form say a car accident, resulting in broken bones and open wounds, is different to a stress injury and that is when you do need a doctor or sugeon. With a stress type of injury, a doctor is only trained in how to mask the problem with drugs and a surgeon only knows how to cut something out or put a piece of metal in.

4 – If you have had, or have manageable pain levels and need to do brush cutting. Then invest in a Husqvarna Balance XT harness, that transfers half of the load of a brush cutter to your hips because of its stiff back plate. This stiff backplate, also helps prevent to some extent, you from winding up your back from side to side. This is the best harness money can buy, shame that this photo shows you the wrong way to use a brush cutter on a slope. Do not follow this example.

Click on the photo above, for more info on the Husqvarna Balance XT harness

5 – Train yourself to use you hands and to a lessor extent you legs instead of your back to swing the brush cutter from side to side.

Yes it is possible to repair shoulder, back and disc issues, if you learn and give what your biological machine needs to repair itself. Pretty impressive really, as yet there is not one single mechanical machine that has this ability to repair itself. Actually thats a though, a self repairing  BrushDestructor blade, I will have to give that idea some thought.

Hope this helps.

BrushDestructor Clearing Machine

The BrushDestructor machine will be a new class of brush clearing machine, designed specifically with an extra long shaft to reduce back stress in taller operators..

 

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