April is national lawn and gardening month, so let’s talk about how you can enjoy your gardening without experiencing back pain. We may not think so, but gardening is a strenuous activity. One way you can set yourself up for proper mechanics is to position yourself and your garden correctly. Here are a few things to think about before you start so you can avoid back pain.
First, set realistic goals and have a plan.
Pace yourself. You will work stronger for longer if you go steady versus too quickly. Plan for frequent breaks and make sure to rest in the shade.
Set a timer if need to remind yourself to take a break every hour but don’t set your timer next to you. This way you have to stop working and get up turn it off.
Use raised garden beds when possible to avoid bending down to the ground. If you have to get low to the ground, set both knees on a gardening pad or use knee pads and brace yourself with one hand while the other hand digs, pulls or pushes.
Be conscious of your posture. Keep your neck neutral and back as straight as possible. Switch hands periodically. It may be difficult and awkward to use your non-dominant hand at first, but practice for short periods and as you improve you will be able to support yourself and prevent overuse injuries much better.
Get into it. Think about positioning yourself close to or over your working area so you’re not reaching too far. You can also find long handle tools to decrease the need for reaching or bending over. If you have to bend over, avoid bending over for prolonged periods.
Use a wheelbarrow. When moving materials such as dirt, soil, rocks or plants consider using a wheelbarrow or wagon to haul the materials. Carry small loads so you’re not lifting, pushing and pulling too heavy of weight at once. Be sure to squat down and lift with your legs and avoid bending over.
Lastly, drink plenty of water! Being hydrated will help prevent fatigue, build and repair muscles and will help with joint aches and pains.
Along with the above tips to follow for avoiding back pain while gardening, here are some things you can work on daily to help support good posture and strength to help prevent back pain with the stresses of gardening:
Stretch before and after. Specifically, here are some areas to focus on stretching before and after gardening:
- Hip Flexor
You should also focus on strengthening your muscles, particularly your core. These muscles include your back muscles (paraspinals), abdominals, and gluteals (buttocks). Work on strengthening your arms and legs, as you will be using your arms and legs to lift and carry things.
Make sure to use proper body mechanics, such as:
- Hinging at your hips
- Keeping your back flat/straight
- Lifting with your legs
- Avoiding bending or stooping
- You should perform a regular stretching/strengthening routine 2-3 times a week.
If you or a loved one is having trouble performing gardening because of aches and pains, contact your local Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy location to have one of our expert physical therapists assess you and explain our hands-on treatments for back pain. Don’t let bad form or a previous injury keep you from what you love.