Despite Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow, it is that time of year when many start their gardening plans. Buying seeds, peat pots or flats to start germinating those seeds. Whether a flower garden, herb garden or vegetable garden, spring is coming. Gardening is a popular hobby and sometimes a way to supplement food budgets. It is also hard on your back. From digging to weeding to carrying heavy loads of things like soil or fertilizer, all of that, done improperly, can hurt your back.
When shoveling dirt (or snow, for that matter) there is a way to minimize strain and excess muscle tension. Make sure to have your body face the same direction as the shovel to avoid too much twisting. Bend your knees and hinge from your hips keeping your back straight. This will avoid too much strain on your back. Be smart about how much dirt you are putting in the shovel to avoid lifting something that is too heavy. If you find you are bending over a lot while digging, stop and do some arching of the back in the other direction to give it a break.
Avoid standing and bending over for long periods of time while picking up weeds. If you can, get on your hands and knees.
Another strategy for extended weeding sessions is sitting on a bucket or stool. If you have knee, hip or back pain, sitting will help you avoid putting pressure onto those areas, but make sure to hinge at the hips while sitting again to keep that back straight.
Lifting Plants and Bags of Soil
When lifting, the first rule is to discipline yourself to use common sense. Many times a bag of soil is just too heavy. Enlist someone to help you. When lifting is unavoidable, make sure you bend from the hips and knees, rather than the waist. For lifting and carrying heavy weights, the hips are more powerful and better equipped to deal with the load than the back. When picking up something heavy, bring the item in close to your chest. This will decrease the force on your back. A big key to preventing injury in the garden is to break the habit of bending at the waist when you lift.
Dumping Out the Wheelbarrow
When emptying a wheelbarrow, think about using your whole body weight to help you avoid strain. First, get yourself in a squat position close to the wheelbarrow so that you are lifting from underneath, including using an underhanded grip. Again, bend from the hips and knees, not the back. As you straighten up, keep a long spine and lean your body weight in toward the wheelbarrow to tilt it and empty out the contents.
Get Your Mower Moving
Maintain a constant elbow angle to help avoid upper back and shoulder strain when pushing the mower. Don’t let the mower get too far out in front of you which will put the back in a compromising position. When going uphill, get underneath the mower and bend your knees and hips to push and resist the urge to straighten out your arms to push it. As always, maintain a long spine so that you can access your powerful hip and leg muscles and save your back from strain.
Spring is getting ready to spring. If you’ve had issues in the past with back pain due to gardening, come see one of our fantastic physical therapists to help treat those issues and keep you from re-injuring your back this year.
Gardening should be a pleasure, not a pain.