Gardening is one of America’s favorite hobbies. According to the National Gardening Association, 42 million households grow their own food4! No matter what you grow, gardening is a great way to spend time outside in the fresh air.
However, it requires a lot of standing, stooping, kneeling, bending, lifting, and crouching. Many of these positions, especially if held for a long period of time, increase physical stressors and result in unwanted aches and pains. Ouch! Here are some tips that will allow you to safely enjoy the gardening season.
1. Check with your doctor.
After a long cold winter many of us haven’t been doing as much and gardening can put a high stress on the heart and body (gardening is exercising) therefore you should check with your MD prior to exerting yourself. If you haven’t had a check up in a while it may be time to make sure your body can handle what you are about to accomplish in your garden.
2. Dress Appropriately.
Light, loose, and comfortable layers of clothing will provide adequate room for proper body mechanics and the layers can be adjusted as the day gets warmer. Don’t forget the proper shoes, wearing inappropriate shoes like flip flops may not provide the most support and traction when walking on uneven grass/flower beds while carrying heavy bags of mulch or flower trays.
3. Warm up.
You should warm up your muscles for about 10 minutes before going out to attack your yard. Often times people forget how strenuous gardening and yard work can be and not properly warming up can lead to injury.
Using proper techniques to lift, weed, or shovel are vital and will help you minimize the risk of pain and injury.
- Keep your back straight.
Use long handled tools or add extensions onto handles to decrease stress on your spine. Long handled tools should be as tall as you are to prevent unnecessary bending in your back2,5,6. When you use a shovel or pitch fork to lift, squat with your legs shoulder width apart, knees bent, back straight, lift by straightening your legs without bending at the waist. Walk to where you are going to dump the mulch or better yet use a wheelbarrow. DO NOT throw the mulch/dirt, twist your torso with a full shovel of dirt/mulch, or carry the shovel far away from your body.
- Bend from your knees and hips when lifting or pulling.
When lifting heavy objects be sure to keep your back straight. This will prevent unnecessary strain on your spine and will increase activation of your stronger leg muscles. Don’t forget to brace your abdominals prior to lifting2,5,6,7! Check out our blog post on proper lifting mechanics for more information.
- Get close to the job.
Yard work like weeding, pruning, or trimming can require a lot of force and put your body at odd angles. Similar to lifting and shoveling you want to get as close to the task as possible. If weeding get on your hands and knees, back straight, and put the weeds directly below you. This will take the strain off of your back and legs and provide you with a greater direction of pull to get those weeds. Keep in mind though, if you are going to have to kneel….
- Kneel on one knee at a time.
Kneeling on both knees increases the likelihood of rounding your back which causes excess strain and pain. Kneeling on one knee promotes a straighter spine. Be sure to use knee pads when kneeling to avoid knee problems2,7! If kneeling is too painful, regardless of the position, then try using elevated planters7.
- Use lightweight tools with large, cushioned grips.
Small handles increase stress on wrists due to excessive movement. Over time, repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, may develop2. Properly fitted tools keep your wrist in neutral and utilize the strength and power from your shoulder, instead of your forearm7.
5. Pace Yourself.
It is recommended that you change positions every 15-30 minutes to prevent fatigue and injury6. Take frequent rest breaks to stand, stretch, and hydrate. Switch hands often when pulling weeds or pruning. This prevents repetitive stress and overuse syndromes such as tendonitis. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel pain when working in the garden, then stop. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to take a break6,7.
6. Know your limitations.
Frequently gardening injuries occur when people attempt to do too much too quickly in the beginning or at the end of the day when they attempt to do “one more thing” while fatigued. To avoid both spread out your gardening activities over a few hours, or better yet, days making small easily obtainable goals for each step.
Following these recommendations will hopefully prevent injury, help you turn your yard into the envy of your neighbors, and keep you moving towards a relaxing, lazy summer!!
- 1.US Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Ergonomics: The Study of Work. Available at: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3125.pdf. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 2. West Virginia University. Accessible Gardening: Garden Ergonomics. Available at: http://greenthumbs.cedwvu.org/factsheets/ergonomics.php. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 3.Oklahoma State University. Defining Ergonomics. Available at: https://ehs.okstate.edu/kopykit/ergo.htm. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 4. National Gardening Association. Food Gardening in the U.S at the Highest Levels in More Than a Decade According to New Reports by the National Gardening Association. Available at: http://garden.org/about/press/press.php?q=show&id=3819&pr=pr_nga. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 5. Rubinoff, S. 10 Tips for Gardening with a Bad Back. Available at: http://www.networx.com/article/10-tips-for-gardening-with-a-bad-back. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 6. Kelly, S. Safe Gardening Tips for Your Body. Available at: http://www.naturalwellnessgirl.com/2012/04/safe-gardening-tips-for-your-body/. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 7. American Physical Therapy Association. Handouts & Brochures for Patients. Gardening. Available at: http://www.apta.org/PRMarketing/Consumers/PatientHandouts/. Accessed on May 10, 2016.