Great Pumpkins, Greater Pains

How Back Pain Can Ruin a Perfectly Pleasant Day at the Pumpkin Patch

There's something beautiful about fall: the vibrant hues, pleasant temperatures, college football. And don't forget those sugary mini pumpkin candies. Speaking of, pumpkin patches are a whimsical representation of autumn. But in the rush of hayrides, petting zoos, corn mazes, and of course, rows of pumpkins, it's easy to forget about your back. Or more specifically, how easy it is to injure it—even in a place as harmless as a pumpkin patch.

Asking for Back Pain
When I was a kid, I loved fall for two reasons: free candy at Halloween and pumpkin patches. When I was around 4 years old, I decided that I needed the biggest pumpkin of the patch. You know what I'm referring to—that mutant-like, giant pumpkin that rests at the far end of every pumpkin patch.

Now had my mother been present at this outing, I wouldn't have much of a story. Even at 4, I would've been wise enough to know not to ask for something so outrageous when she was around. But even at 4, I was wise enough to know that I had my father wrapped around my little finger, so I gave it a shot.

Twenty years later, I can't remember exactly how large the pumpkin was, but I do recall my dad making a noise that caught the attention of most of the children—and some of the ponies—at the petting zoo nearby.

That day, my dad and I both left disappointed. I didn't get my pumpkin. And my dad got back pain.

How to Lift a Pumpkin…or Any Other Heavy Object
Maybe you've been in a similar situation as my poor father. So next time you visit a pumpkin patch, be prepared by knowing how to properly lift heavy objects.

These lifting tips aren't just for lifting the biggest pumpkins of the patch. We all know that pumpkins come in a variety of sizes. And many times, they look like they weigh less than they do.

  • Keep your spine straight: When lifting, most people naturally bend forward. This puts a lot of stress and pressure on your intervertebral discs, which can cause a bulging or herniated disc. If you consciously work toward keeping your spine straight (or as close to straight as it can go), you'll greatly reduce the pressure on your back.

    Here are some things to keep in mind before you lift:
    • Get as close as you can to the pumpkin. The farther away you are, the more you will have to bend forward to pick it up.
    • Squat to lift. Make sure to point your buttocks out as you bend your knees. Again, this will help keep your back straight.
    • Use your legs and buttocks to lift the pumpkin. Wrap your arms around the orange body of the pumpkin—not the stem. This will help evenly distribute the weight. Bring the pumpkin close to you, at waist height, as you slowly stand up.
    • Don't hold the pumpkin for long periods of time. To gently lower the pumpkin in a wheelbarrow or trolley, squat down again. Do not bend forward.
  • Know your limits: The point here is to think before you act. If your child asks for an obscenely large pumpkin that you know is beyond your limits, just say no. There are plenty of diversions at pumpkin patches, and your child will most likely forget about the pumpkin by the time you reach the hayride line (but don't blame me if he or she decides to write about it later on in life).

    Remember, just because a pumpkin is a manageable size does not mean it's not dense and heavy. Don't just casually pick it up as if it were a basketball. To help determine how heavy it is before picking it up, gently try to move it with your foot. This will help you gauge if it's light enough to lift.
  • Ask for help: Pumpkin patches don't run themselves. There are people whose job it is to help you. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance.

Back pain may be the farthest thing on your mind when the aroma of spiced apple cider is in the air and you're deciding whether to purchase acorn squash or butternut squash (or both). But taking steps to protect your spine at the pumpkin patch will make for a pleasant drive home and a back pain-free carving session later on.

And as for my dad, his back is just fine. But he hasn't been to a pumpkin patch in nearly 20 years. I'd say we are due for a visit.

Updated on: 06/06/15
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Keeping Your Back Healthy as You Age

Among the parts of our body with the shortest “warranties” is the spine; an extraordinary collection of bones, discs and muscles that keeps us upright and moving.
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