Back in the garden

To avoid back strain, use a stool or kneeling pad when working

Ahh, spring is finally here. Now you can get out in the garden
and do all those things you’ve been waiting to do.
For many people gardening is very therapeutic. But if you aren’t
careful, it may end up being quite the opposite.
Ahh, spring is finally here. Now you can get out in the garden and do all those things you’ve been waiting to do.

For many people gardening is very therapeutic. But if you aren’t careful, it may end up being quite the opposite. Like the weekend warriors who sit at a desk all week and then throw their unsuspecting limbs into a weekend of football or basketball, gardeners should reenter their “sport” with care.

Stretching and warming up the muscles and joints, along with using sensible gardening habits, can prevent you from injuring yourself and allow you to continue the activities you love.

Give your body a chance to catch up with your enthusiastic mind by starting gradually. Do a few stretches daily even before the day you step out into the yard. And use good sense, even with these gentle stretches.

Warm-up activities should NOT cause you any pain. If they do, or if you have special physical concerns, seek advice from your medical provider. Otherwise, read on.

• First, make sure your clothing is not impeding your movement. If you love wearing jeans, try the stretch variety.

• To prepare yourself for working at ground level, loosen up your hips, knees, ankles and back. Do some gentle squats, holding onto something stable if need be. Stand with your feet apart and keep your back straight, spreading your knees to the sides as you lower yourself.

• Next, lie on your back with your knees bent. Pull both knees to your chest and hold for a few seconds. Repeat a few times. Gently drop your knees to one side, then the other to rotate your spine and hips.

• Now, stand with your feet apart. Swing your arms alternately to each side while turning your head and trunk gently. Keep your hips facing forward and your knees slightly bent to avoid torquing your knees.

• Last, support your low back with both hands. Gently bend backward while looking forward or slightly upward. Repeat this exercise periodically while you are out in the garden, especially before and after stooping or bending.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. Remember that the exercises should not be painful.

Now that your body is warmed up and ready to go, make sure you use sensible habits to further avoid strain or injury.

One of the most common mistakes I see gardeners make is working too long. Body tissues can only tolerate so much effort at one time before they require rest to restore themselves.

One more patch of weeds may be calling to you, but just say no. The weeds will wait for you. But once you hurt yourself you may not bounce back easily.

When you start to feel strain or fatigue, or if past experience tells you you’re near your limit of physical tolerance, it’s time to stop. If there’s just too much to be done, consider hiring someone to do the heavy or tedious tasks, and save your skills and energy for the most creative and appealing jobs.

Other pitfalls for gardeners include working in stooped positions, lifting heavy bags of compost or plants, and twisting or losing their balance when weeding or pulling plants. Try these tips:

• Use a stool or kneeling pad when working near the ground, to settle yourself close to your work without putting all the strain on your back.

• Use a trowel or spade to loosen deep roots that do not readily pull out of the soil. Avoid twisting your back as you pull.

• Keep your back as upright as possible when digging, raking, hoeing or sweeping, using the strong leg muscles for bending and moving.

• Get help or use a wagon or wheelbarrow to move heavy items.

• When possible, vary types of tasks to give muscle groups a chance to recover.

• Remember to nourish your body by taking frequent breaks for water, rest and food.

• Always use good judgment – don’t take risks.

Your gardening body has many more years of use. Help those years to be the best they can.

Warm up for gardening or other intensive activities, respect your body’s limits, and use sensible work habits that protect you from unnecessary strain.

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