Spring is in the air, and if you have a garden – its time to get busy! Its also a busy time for osteopaths. At this time of year, many people come in with gardening-induced back pain, shoulder pain and wrist injuries resulting from a sudden bout of physical activity in the garden. Make sure you keep a spring in your step by following these simple tips whilst gardening.
1. Good Gardening Posture
Keep your back straight and try to work within comfortable reach of your body. Focus tasks as much as possible in the area between your knees and shoulders and within arms length. The further you reach from your body, the bigger the force your body will be subjected to. Long-handled tools and a ladder can help with this.
2. Invest in Decent Tools
- If a tool does its job well, it should take some of the physical stress of gardening away from your body. Tools should also be comfortable to use. When buying garden tools, imagine you are using using them and ask yourself: are they comfortable to hold? the right size? Not too heavy?
- Keep tools sharp. Blunt tools put more strain through your hand, wrist and arms.
3. Vary Your Activities
If you are planning a long stint in the garden, break it up into shorter activities. Eg. raking for 30 mins, pruning for 30mins, weeding for 30mins. Using different tools with your body in varied positions reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries or over-straining a single part of your body.
4. Take Regular Breaks
You deserve it! Take 5 mins to make a drink, sit back in the sunshine and admire your work. Your body will thank you for it. It will also stop you making silly mistakes. Sometimes its only when you take a break, you realise your pruning is wonky or a bit over-ambitious – oops!
How Best To Do….
This short video gives a good explanation of good digging technique, but the main things to remember are:
- Stand in a split stance with one foot in front of the other. Keep your back straight and arms close to your body.
- Bend from your knees and hips, not your back.
- If you are moving earth to your side or behind you, turn your whole body rather than twisting from your waist or back.
6. Ground Level Weeding and Planting
- Avoid standing and bending forwards from your waist to reach the ground.
- Better to kneel with both knees on a kneeling pad (to reduce stress on your knees). Support yourself with one hand and use the other for weeding.
- Switch hands occasionally to give the other side a break.
7. Bending and Lifting
- Find a gardening buddy to help out with heavy loads
- Lift from a squat position using bent hips and knees rather than using your back.
- Try to lift from directly in front of you to avoid lifting and twisting and at the same time (this is a common cause of disc injuries).
- Use a wheelbarrow. Remember to bend from your hips and knees when lifting it and keep your back straight.
- Keep secateurs in a belt-holster or a large pocket to save repeatedly bending down.
- Use a ladder and move it regularly so you are within reach of the area you are working on.
- Invest in pruners or loppers with long or telescopic handles to prevent over-reaching. Some also have a ratchet system which makes cutting easier and reduces strain on the back and shoulders.
This great little video tells you how best to avoid back pain whilst raking. Key points are:
- Keep your back straight, using hips and knees to bend rather than your back
- Rake from in front of you and avoid twisting to the side.
- Move your feet to keep yourself positioned close to your rake to avoid over-reaching.
10. After you’ve finished…
- Have a good stretch. Slowly bring on your stretches to the point of tension not pain, then hold for at least 20 seconds.
- If you are in pain after gardening, try using an ice pack on the area. Ice is usually better to bring down any inflammation immediately after an injury. See my previous article for a discussion of which is best: Ice or Heat for Pain?
Emma Lipson is Principal Osteopath at Feel Better Osteopathy in Warwick, Warwickshire.
Over to you…
If you enjoyed this article, please like, share or comment below. I would also love to hear any relevant tips or experiences you might have.