Ten Tips for Getting “Back” to Gardening without Back Pain Getting to You!
Gardening is a great activity as you are outdoors and active. However, it can also be the cause of back pain if you do too much too soon and/or do things improperly. Consider the following tips as you get “back’ into the gardening season!
- Do a warm up first. Remember, gardening is a physical activity and your muscles and joints will benefit from doing some light exercises before starting to garden. Even simulating some of the movements that you will be doing (like raking) is a great way to warm up the muscles. Do some stretches of the muscles that you will be using, such as your forearm, neck, back and hip muscles. If you are not sure of which ones to do, or if you have an underlying condition, then speak to your Physiotherapist.
- Maintain the normal curve of your spine. There are natural curves in your neck, mid-back and low back. Keeping your spine in your best alignment helps you move in the best range of motion and avoid injury. Avoid bent forward positions that round your back. Bend at the hips, not the back. This is especially important if you have osteoporosis.
- Use gardening tools wisely. Try to keep them as close to you as possible and in a pain-free range. The closer to your body you are working with your hands, the less strain you are putting on your back. This helps to keep your spine in the correct alignment and decreases the load through your spine.
- Work at waist height as much as possible. This helps you avoid bending forward. If you can do some potting or preparation on a table then do that instead of on the ground. If you need to get down to the ground, then bend at your knees and squat or kneel. If you have painful knees then this may not be possible. Therefore, consider sitting on a garden stool.
- Lift safely and properly. Before you lift an object make sure you know how heavy it is and if you should be asking for help. Also, know where you are going to put it down to decrease the amount of time you are carrying it. When lifting: bend at the hips and knees as much as you can and avoid bending your back. Keep the load close to your body when carrying it. If you are changing directions, remember to move your feet in the right direction: do not twist your back. When digging or shoveling, put the head of the shovel into the ground and step on the blade instead of “scooping”. Remember to keep your back straight. Lift small amounts at a time. Taking longer to complete a job safely is better than needing to recover from back pain. If you have any questions on lifting properly then speak to your Physiotherapist.
- Pace yourself. This seems obvious but we know gardeners love gardening and time flies by! Like any activity, it is important to take breaks from gardening so you do not overdo it. A break is a good time to do some more stretches of the muscles and to get a drink of water. If you have big jobs to do then spread the work over many days as opposed to one or two days.
- Avoid twisting your back. This can happen when mowing the lawn or moving from one place to another (especially if you are carrying something). Turn your feet in the direction you are going so your feet, shoulder and hips are facing the same direction.
- Consider using ergonomic tools. You may benefit from long-handled tools that “fit” you better such as an ergonomic rake, a kneeling pad with a support handle or a lighter weight or smaller shovel. Your local gardening store should have a selection of ergonomic tools for you to consider.
- Pay attention to the heat and signs of heat-related illness. Some examples include extremely high body temperature, headache, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea confusion or unconsciousness. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Enjoy being outside and watching the fruit of your labors grow (literally)! Your Physiotherapist is your resource so contact them if you start to experience any back discomfort or have any questions
Bonny O’Hare Physiotherapist
Pro Motion Physiotherapy