Spring is just around the corner and that means people will be heading outside to start gardening. Often we see people at Movement Solutions Physiotherapy in the springtime with injuries related to gardening activities. This might include lower back, neck and shoulder strains and sprains. In many cases, this can be avoided by taking some time to think about the activity you are doing. Gardening is not usually thought of as a type of exercise but it should be. Think about it, if I asked you to do 50 squats 50 forward bends, 50 reaches forward from a kneeling position, 50 pulls of high resistance each hour for 3 hours, you might think I was asking a lot. However, that's quite likely what will happen for many when they go out to garden. So it’s a good idea to try and think about gardening as an exercise.
Two Keys to Safe Gardening
With exercise, it’s always good to do a dynamic warm up first to get your body prepared for what it's about to do. This could include walking around your backyard or the area that you're going to be gardening as you take a mental note of things that you might need to be doing. Spend about 5-10 minutes walking around.
Once you do start your gardening a key thing to remember is how you move -- your body mechanics.
Everyone knows you need to lift with your legs not your back however when you look at people gardening often I will see them bent over from the waist pulling weeds out of the garden which is essentially a lift with your back.
Think also about how you are positioned when you pull those weeds out -- are you twisted? Try to square your hips and shoulders to the task at hand and keep your pulling/pushing close to your body.
The amount of time that is spent gardening at one time is something else to consider. Instead of spending 3 hours at a time doing an activity where you’re squatting down pulling weeds or raking you might want to consider pacing your activities. Spend a bit of time doing one activity then move around, stretch, get a drink before moving on to the next activity. Breaking it up this way will allow your body to rest between activities and potentially reduce the risk for aches, pains or potential injury. Remember to listen to your body. If you are getting sore while doing your activity, your body is telling you something so you should listen to it.
Have a read through the "Gardening Tips" article from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association for more tips and ideas about specific activities related to gardening. Here is a quick summary.
- Proper movements and tools will extend your gardening season.
- Stretch! Before, during and after activity.
- Stay in “the zone”
- Get out there often, and for longer periods
- Use the right tools