Gardening is a favorite warm weather activity for many people. Unfortunately, it can often send them straight to the chiropractor with back pain and stiffness. If you enjoy your garden but your back doesn’t, take heart. An estimated 80% of the population has experienced back pain or will experience it at some point in their lifetime. It is common, but it doesn’t have to keep you from doing the things you enjoy. There are some fairly simple things you can do to make it easier and less painful.
Stretching is a good way to prevent back pain for nearly any activity. The more limber you are and the more warmed up your muscles are, the more comfortable you will be while you are gardening and afterwards.
Stretches for gardeners aren’t all that different from stretches for other activities. You need to address your hamstrings, triceps, and of course your back. Then you will be ready to get in the dirt and do what you love.
Use Back Friendly Tools and Gardening Methods
It may feel wonderful to get close to the dirt as you dig, breathing in its earthiness, feeling at one with nature, but your back likely does not hold the same appreciation. You can mix it up a little, but allow at least part of your gardening time to the use of tools that are “back friendly.”
Long handled and telescopic tools allow you to do your garden work without overworking your back. This is also great for people who don’t have full range of motion in their backs or who have trouble getting up and down.
Another back saver is a raised container garden. This will put your garden within easy reach, saving you from trying to get on the ground or, worse, feeling like you have to forego a garden because you can’t get around like you once did.
You can set the containers at whatever height you choose and include benches and seats for more comfortable gardening. If you do get on the ground, knee pads or a mat can help reduce some of the stress and prevent some pain.
Change Your Position Frequently
It’s easy to get in the zone and lose track of time, only for your body to remind you when you try to move and are met with painful stiffness. Carry a small timer with you and set it so that you are reminded every 30 minutes to stop, walk around, and stretch a little. This not only prevents pain and stiffness, it also helps with your circulation and blood flow, even digestion.
You can also vary your garden tasks so that you don’t over-tax a single muscle group. You may weed for a while, then move to your potting bench for a while or pruning trees or shrubs. It isn’t good to stay in one position for too long no matter what you are doing. A physical activity like gardening, though, requires more movement.
Take Care when Bending, Reaching, and Lifting
Gardening involves a lot of reaching, bending, and lifting. When you don’t do it correctly you would wind up with a sore back – or worse.
To lift: Don’t bend at your waist. Squat, grasp the object with both hands while pulling it close to your body. Straighten your legs slowly, letting those muscles to the work of lifting. You may also use a dolly, wheelbarrow, or wagon to move heavy items around and minimize the need to lift them.
Push: Pushing doesn’t strain the back as much as pulling does. Push your seeder, wheelbarrow, and lawnmower and try to avoid pulling as much as possible.
Reaching: Be careful when you reach, especially if you are reaching to lift. Even something that doesn’t weigh much can throw off your balance or cause you to twist your back. Try to minimize lifting while reaching as much as possible.
Bending: Keep your knees soft when you bend and try bending from the waist. If you are doing a task that requires bending, take frequent breaks where you can stand upright. If you bend to lift, make sure you use proper lifting techniques.
Gardening can be wonderful for mind, body, and spirit. It can also be painful if you don’t take the necessary precautions. When you go out to tend your plants, remember these back-saving gardening tips. Your back will thank you.
Happy Gardening! Visit www.ocwc.ca for more health and wellness tips and information.