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Avoiding back pain while gardening
Tips to prevent back pain while gardening
- Start each morning with 5-7 repetitions of a “cat-camel” exercise after arising. This will reduce spine stresses from bending activities. This exercise performed from the “on all fours” position, hands placed directly under the shoulders, knees directly under the hips. Slowly alternate movements between flexion and extension of the spine, arching up then sagging down. Avoid extremes of motion if they cause pain. This is not a stretch, rather a continuous movement throughout the range. 5-10 repetitions are performed in the AM or before exercise.
- Warm up with a 5-10 minute brisk walk. There is no evidence that stretching before an activity prevents injury. Some flexion stretches such as bending to touch the toes first thing in the morning can cause injury.
- Vary your gardening tasks each time. Do a little pruning work, raking, bending work, digging etc. Don’t continuously perform any particular activity for a long period.
- After full bending or squatting and bending activities, stand up, place hands on hips and gently stretch into a back bend for a few seconds 3-5 times before lifting anything. Do not extend to the point of causing pain.
- Watch your lifting posture – use an abdominal brace (tense the abdominal wall as if you were anticipating being struck), bend your knees and keep your back straight. The power for your lift comes from your buttocks and legs. Bending to lift a heavy load is a recipe for disaster.
- Get down to the work area but if you have trouble moving around once you’re on your knees plan ahead. Put needed tools in a bucket or container and use a kneeling pad or kneeler with arms to work from.
- When shoveling keep your feet wide enough apart to give your body a wide base of support.
- Avoid twisting your body. Pivot and reposition your feet instead.
- Use long handled tools that allow you to work sitting or standing. A weeding tool on a stick can save your back from prolonged bending.
- Try a reaching tool for picking up leaves etc. This guards against the constant up and down movement when cleaning the garden.
- Consider hiring a local student to do the heavy work that strains your back. Lots of young people can’t find summer jobs and one may be more than willing to spend a few hours a week working for you. As an added bonus you might just turn them into a gardener for life.
- Gardening is a physical activity. You will protect your back and joints if you exercise regularly in addition to gardening, just as an athlete trains and conditions for his/her sport. If you need to improve flexibility, gently stretch after gardening or exercise.