With the spring season upon us, Florida homeowners who pride themselves on their lush lawn and garden are ready to put their green thumbs to work after the long winter break. Gardening can be an extremely enjoyable pastime, but between all the raking, seeding, weeding, and other yard care activities, it can take a toll on your back if you’re not careful.
To maximize the joy of gardening and minimize the risk of back injury, we’ve put together a list of simple tips that will help you prevent back injuries and sore muscles during this spring clean-up.
#1. Warm Up
A good warm-up is perhaps the most important step of any back-friendly gardening routine, and one that gardeners often overlook during the “spring fever.” That’s because plunging your hands into the dirt after months of inactivity without first preparing your body for the new movements will likely result in sore muscles and backache.
To reduce potential muscle strain and back injury, take a few minutes before your gardening sessions to gently stretch your neck, shoulders, arms, legs, and back muscles. Your movements should be slow and controlled; once you feel the muscle working, hold the position for 10-15 seconds. Perform each stretch two or three times before getting to work and repeat at the end to avoid any stiffness.
#2. Practice Good Posture
Whether you’re clearing weeds or cutting hedges, many garden tasks require you to bend over or reach for things. In the beginning, your muscles might be able to support your body in a correct position, but as you get tired, you may begin to slump over, and that may put you at an increased risk for injury. For this reason, it’s important to pay close attention to your posture and body mechanics during your gardening work.
Keep your back straight no matter what you do, and make sure to position yourself close to your task to avoid overreaching. If you must bend, do so by bending at the knees and pivoting the hips while keeping your back straight. If you’re seated, keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and spread apart to create a solid foundation for your body.
#3. Use the Right Tools
Working in your garden typically involves multiple tools, which, if used correctly, should mitigate some of the physical strain brought on by gardening. Aside from keeping tools sharp and functional, you should also make sure they’re comfortable to work with and have an ergonomic design.
If possible, choose gardening tools with longer handles to avoid bending or reaching, and opt for lightweight materials in order to submit your joints to as little stress as possible. The benefit of investing in ergonomically designed gardening tools is that they allow for different sizes and can contribute to your physical comfort in the yard.
#4. Don’t Spend Too Much Time on One Task
Back pain and injury are often the result of holding your body in the same position for prolonged periods. For this reason, it may help your back tremendously to break up the work you plan to do into shorter activities, set time limits, and switch often between tasks. It’s also important to pace yourself rather than powering through the work, and stop at the first sign of pain or discomfort.
#5. Have a Drink of Water
Although you may not feel particularly thirsty during your gardening work, it’s essential to hydrate yourself regularly when you’re physically active under the sun. Dehydration can minimize your body’s performance and slow the activity of energy-producing enzymes, leaving you feeling exhausted without having had much done.
Make sure to take a bottle of water along with your garden supplies and make sure it’s always in reach. Have a sip every time you take a break, about every 20-25 minutes, and you will feel refreshed and energized when resuming work.
#6. Be Careful with Heavy Loads
You may be surprised to learn that lifting a 10-pound load puts 100 pounds of pressure on your back. That’s because back muscles are postural muscles and therefore not designed to lift heavy loads off the ground. When you lift incorrectly or too heavy a load, you can strain your neck, shoulder, and lower back muscles.
If you absolutely have to lift heavy items around the garden, try to lift with your leg muscles instead of bending at the waist (thigh and calf muscles, together with abdominal muscles, are the primary movers for lifting). Keep the load close to your body and make sure no obstacles are in your way when lifting and carrying. Use a wheelbarrow to transport bags of mulch or potted plants around the yard.
Gardening is healthy for both body and mind, but it’s still a physical activity – and a pretty intense one, so pain and injury are likely to occur if you don’t pay attention to your body’s cues. If you constantly find yourself in pain at the end of a day in the garden, you may need to consult a licensed back specialist in your area before potentially doing more damage to your spine.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.