Despite a recent cold spell, things are starting to grow again in the garden. and we are thinking of outside jobs that need done. When we are doing activities that we do not do on a regular basis we need to be mindful of how we are doing things. We also need to be mindful of our own physical abilities and how much we can do. We will tend to see people with grumbling backs and shoulders in clinic that have been doing gardening tasks in a way that has strained the joints and muscles. This can be done by poor positioning or doing a repetitive task for too long.
As a keen gardener myself, who has had my share of gardening aches and pains, let me share my top tips for preventing injuries in the garden.
Mowing the grass
Make sure the handle is approximately in line with your belly button. In this position your elbows will be at 90 degrees and this is a good position to push from. If the handle is too low we tend to flex from the spine which puts unwanted pressure on the back.
Make sure the mower is close to our body and we are not over reaching as again this puts pressure on the back.
Finally make sure we push the mower forward using our legs and don’t over grip with the hands. This ensures we use the big legs muscles to do the job rather than smaller muscles of the upper body.
Weeding and Pruning
We need to be careful with this one as when we start we will feel fine, as it is not a heavy job, but it is a repetitive job with a lot of forward bending. Initially only do in short bursts. This is an activity that can feel ok at the time, but as the day goes on and into the next day you may cease up. So pacing is king.
If possible, use knee pads and kneel on the ground so you are closer to the ground. Less bend in the back is required in this position. If you do not want to use knee pads, then make sure the bend is coming from your hips and not your back.
If weeding, if possible use a hoe to limit bending, but make sure you bend from the hips and not from your back.
Also make sure you are not over reaching and working close to you.
Lifting compost bags, plants etc
If lifting heavy objects, stop and think first. If an awkward shape or if the object is heavy can you get another person to help you? Can you use any equipment to help transport it e.g.wheelbarrow.
If lifting anything make sure the object is close to you, bend from the hips rather than your back to pick it up. When you lift the object up push through your feet rather than using your back, and make sure there is not too much tension in the hands and arms.
If you have lots of things to move, start with lighter objects to get warmed up first and space the heavy duties out over the day or week rather than having them all at once. If you are not used to lifting this could be too much if done all at once.
If you are struggling to lift bags of compost, try opening the bag and putting the compost into smaller containers to transport.
Turning over soil / digging
Make sure you bend from the hips and not the back, using the same principles as when using a hoe.
If moving soil to the side or into a wheelbarrow make sure you step round rather than rotating.
Do this activity in small chunks e.g. 30mins in the morning and the 30 mins in the afternoon rather than hours at once.
Know your limitations and capacity, and be honest with your own capabilities. If you are physically fit and strong, your body will be able to do more than someone who has a desk job and a more sedentary lifestyle. For the slightly older gardener, do not compare yourself to a younger version of yourself. Just because you used to be able to do 3 hours in the garden in one go, goes not mean you still can. Finally, if you have not been in the garden for a while, start with short stints and gradually build up the time. It is tempting to crack on and get it all done, but you do not want to do that at the expense of not being able to move for a week. Also, perhaps go for a walk after being in the garden to get the blood flowing round the muscles to prevent stiffness the following day.