Originally published: May 5, 2015
It’s so wonderful that the weather is warming up for gardening season again. Many of my clients are avid gardeners. I also find being in my own garden therapeutic. The reward doesn’t come without hard work. But it’s totally worth it! Gardening uses heavy lifting and requires your body to be in positions that are less than optimal.
Don’t worry! We have some tips to protect your body while gardening this season to keep yourself injury-free.
Begin with warm-up exercises before gardening
It’s always good to prepare your body for strenuous and heavy lifting. I recommend warm-up exercises such as walking, rolling your shoulders, or circling your arms to warm up your muscles. Follow up by stretching your back, legs, neck, forearms, and fingers to prevent strain or injury.
You can follow these recommended exercises from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA). They have a datasheet with more information on Gardening Tips and Techniques.
You can also ask your physiotherapist to prescribe you with the best stretches for your gardening needs, dependent upon what area of your body is most vulnerable to injury. For example, if you have a history of low back pain or injury, this area will be the focus. Once you are done with warm-up exercises, start with light tasks such as easy raking.
Use the correct posture and body mechanics
When sweeping or raking, move your feet instead of twisting your torso or overreaching with your arms. When lifting and lowering heavy bags or pots, use your legs, keep your back straight, and tuck your belly button in slightly to stabilize your back. Hold objects close to your body to prevent unnecessary strain on your back.
Use your tools, not your hands
Although your hands might be the convenient tool of choice, sharp objects and debris buried in the soil may cut you. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, you should use a hand shovel or rake instead of your hands for digging. It’s also good to wear gardening gloves. This avoids causing harm to you or your tools. If possible, remove objects from the work area before beginning the task.
Also, make sure your tools are sharp when pruning or sawing to minimize your workload. Select tools with long handles to avoid reaching. If you find your tools are becoming dull over time, you can always sharpen your tools beforehand. Let the tools work for you, instead of putting too much strain on your body.
Be ergonomically correct
Stay close to the ground to trowel, plant, and weed. Wear knee pads or use a kneeling pad to avoid putting too much pressure on your knees.
Protect your skin
Gardening when it’s nice weather means you will be basking in the sun with harmful UV rays. Remember to use protective gear like sunscreen, a hat, and protective clothing to protect your skin. Wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants will help protect your skin, especially when the material has UV protection.
Preventing from heat or sunstroke
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and remember to take breaks. Stay in the shade whenever possible to minimize the chances of getting heat or sunstroke.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when lifting heavy objects like pots or large bags of soil. It’s always more fun to garden with another person.
Take a break
It’s important to take breaks (even short ones) and do some stretching to keep limber. Try switching up tasks to use different muscles and avoid one group from being overworked. Repetitive actions that use a specific muscle or muscle groups can cause pain or injury. When it comes to the back, it is generally the strain of being bent over for a prolonged length of time.
Don’t be afraid to break up your gardening project over time, even if it’s over a couple of days. You should enjoy gardening. Otherwise, it feels like an unenjoyable chore.
Happy harvesting to those of you who have vegetable gardens. Remember to stop and smell the flowers 🙂
If you have a gardening injury and would like to see a physiotherapist to help you with your recovery, please book an appointment with us. Our physiotherapy clinic is located in Coquitlam, BC.