The sun has emerged from its winter slumber, albeit a little late, and we’re finally able to enjoy that quintessential British activity of pottering around the garden.
Gardening is always thought of as a genteel pastime but, in reality, gardening can be a serious physical activity.
In many ways, it’s more akin to a sport than a leisure activity. A lot of the movements required in gardening are over and above those of our day-to-day activities. If you couple that with the lifting and shifting of heavy and awkward items it adds up to quite a challenging work-out.
So, just like preparing to take part in any sporting activity, you should prepare for gardening by doing a warm-up.
A warm-up to do the gardening? Isn’t that a little bit like overkill? No, and here’s why.
Before any activity which is different from your normal daily routine – which for most people is sitting, walking, driving, etc – you need to prepare your body for the additional strains and exertions placed on it.
Problems arise when you exert yourself in a way which your body does not expect and when you hold positions which put the joints at a disadvantage and risk of injury.
A warm-up allows you to prepare your muscles and your joints so they are ‘primed’ for action.
It doesn’t have to be too lengthy; it just needs to be enough to ensure you’re ready.
This could be a few minutes walking around the garden, doing some light stretches and moving your arms and hands through a full range of motion to prep you for getting on your hands and knees with the trowel.
Here’s what we’d suggest:
- Walk gently around the garden for a few minutes shrugging your shoulders and shaking out your arms. Breathe in and out slowly and in a controlled manner.
- Take a seat and place one foot on a stool or step, keeping the knees straight. Lean your body forward slowly until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh or in your hamstring muscle. Keep your low back straight whilst reaching forward so you bend at the hip. Hold for 15 seconds, then repeat. Change legs and do the same, again. Don’t push the stretch. Immediately pull back if you start to feel any pain. You should breathe into your stretches, not force them.(1)
- Stand up straight and maintain a balanced posture. Put both hands together interweaving your fingers and with palms facing outwards stretch your arms above your head. Now, with your arms in the stretch position, lean to one side for 10 seconds and then to the other. Repeat three times. (1)
- Still standing, wrap your arms as far around your body as possible. Rotate your body to one side and hold for 10 seconds. Return to the middle, still with your arms wrapped around your body and rotate to the other side. Repeat three times.(1)
Now you’re warmed up, you’re ready to start pulling those weeds and pushing that mower around the garden.
But, wait. There are some very important principles to keep in mind when gardening to help prevent back pain.
- Use the right tools for each job. If you are trying to cut something a little too high, you’ll most likely over-reach. This isn’t healthy for your spine. Use a stepladder, if needed.
- Make sure your gardening equipment is the right size for you. Your spades, forks, hoes and rakes should all have handles long enough for you to maintain a strong position; if these are too short, you’ll be putting more strain on your back.
- Fill watering cans halfway. Better still, use a hose.
- When using a wheelbarrow, don’t overfill it, bend at the knees and keep your body in alignment and the barrow close to your body. Keep the low back straight, flexing at the hips like a hinge rather that bending forwards with a curved back.
- Keep objects close to your body, especially heavy objects like filled garden sacks and lawn mowers. Keep your arms bent at your sides whenever possible. Outstretched arms and heavy objects do not go together well.
- Bend at the knees rather than lean over when weeding at ground level. Better still, invest in a small stool. Or buy a foam mat to rest your knees on. This will also help take pressure of your back as you’ll be able to rest on your knees.
- Don’t twist your spine. Keep your body, arms and legs in alignment with whatever gardening chore you are doing. If you need to change position, move your whole body rather than twisting your upper body.
If back pain is an ongoing issue for you, it may be worth considering more long-term changes to your garden to help you continue enjoying the outside and keeping active.
The BBC’s Gardening website suggests a few ways to adjust your garden layout to make gardening a bit easier on the back. It suggests:
- Raising flowerbeds so they’re at a more manageable height and ensuring these are narrow so you don’t have to stretch across them.
- Avoid having a lawn in a small garden so you’re not committed to mowing one or two times a week during summer.
- Mulching the surface of exposed soil using bark chips, which will reduce growth of weeds and cut down on needing to water.
Keep these tips in mind when venturing out to mow the lawn or weed your flowerbeds and you’ll minimise your chances of back pain. All so you can enjoy your garden in all its glory free from back pain.
If you experience any back pain from gardening, Wokingham Chiropractic can help. We have experience in helping patients manage and alleviate acute and chronic back pain. Call us today on 0118 978 7466 and we’ll gladly advise you on your back pain issues.
- American Chiropractic Association – Pull Your Weeds, Not Your Back, When Gardening https://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=70
- BBC – Gardening Guides Back Care https://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/basics/techniques/safety_problems_backcare.shtml