How to look after your back when gardening
With so many people at home more than usual at the moment, it would seem like a good time to give some advice about how to look after your back when gardening. There are a few enthusiastic gardeners on the team at Haslemere Chiropractic Clinic, so we have a personal interest in this subject.
Spring is a busy time in the garden which can be hard on the lower back. Intensive spells of gardening can sometimes lead to pain and stiffness. At the Chiropractic Clinic we often have a peak of gardening related injuries in the spring and autumn, when there is a lot to do in the garden.
Chiropractor Fiona Ellis shares a few hints and tips to help keep your back happy when you are gardening:
WARM UP FIRST
Try a brisk 5 minute walk before you start in the garden to warm your muscles up, followed by a couple of easy stretches which help get your lower back moving.
Firstly, try a “knee to chest” stretch. Lie on your back, on the bed or on the floor is fine. With your knees together, pull them up towards your chest, curling up the lower back.
The second stretch is a back extension and can be done lying or standing. If stood, place your hands in the small of your back and gently lean backwards. Or lying on your stomach, rest your weight on your forearms extending the spine backwards.
USE GOOD TECHNIQUES
If you are weeding, squatting or kneeling on one or both knees (ideally on a cushion or kneeler) is best, rather than bending at the waist.
Shift position regularly to give yourself “posture breaks”.
If you need to move a heavy or awkward load, ask for help if possible. many hands make light work! Then, think about the best way to lift.
Remember to keep objects close to you when lifting. Ideally lift from a raised surface, but if lifting from the ground start by squatting, keeping your back straight as you rise up.
When using a wheelbarrow, keep the load realistic. it is better to make a couple of trips than to overload it.
If prolonged bending forwards is difficult for you, consider using raised beds, vegetable planters, or tall pots.
You can create raised tubs by placing a pot on top a similar sized upturned pot. You could even grow things vertically up a wall.
Vegetable planters are great for small gardens where there is no space for a vegetable patch. They can also be handy for preventing crops from being damaged by energetic dogs and/or children!
Try not to tackle too much at once. Switch jobs frequently to allow a variety of working positions and take regular breaks. Try taking a water bottle outside with you to encourage regular breaks or re-do the warm up exercises if your back starts to feel achy.
USE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Long handled tools can be very useful to limit bending. When using tools, make use of the full length of the handle and avoid stooping over to use them. Try adopting a fencer style stance when sweeping, hoeing and raking to maintain an upright posture.
ENJOY THE GARDEN!
Research has shown spending time in the garden can help reduce stress levels. Being in the sun boosts vitamin D levels, helping to build strong bones and boost immunity. In addition, having a few beautiful flowers or yummy veg to enjoy is very rewarding; not to mention the fact that gardening is a good calorie burner, and being active in the garden will make a good contribution to your daily step count and the time that we are recommended to exercise.
If you are prone to episodes of back pain, don’t be afraid to go out in the garden to do some jobs. Be realistic about what you can achieve and pace yourself. A small amount of discomfort after a new activity is normal, and by regularly performing some well chosen tasks you will strengthen your back and become more resilient, enabling you to do more over time.
Above all, enjoy your garden!