5 Tips for Back Health in Your Garden

LowerBackPainIf spring and summer bring out your green thumb, we want to make sure it doesn’t also bring on an aching back. Before you head out into your garden this season consider a few tips to keep your back safe and make your garden more enjoyable.

  • Stretch and warm up. Before you head out, make sure you limber up those muscles and joints. Take a walk around the yard or around the block. Stretch your back, legs, chest and shoulders to help prevent injury. Try that runner’s stretch for your calf or a hamstring stretch by sitting on a chair with your leg out straight and gently leaning forward. Try a corner stretch for your chest, and some backward shoulder circles or shoulder blade squeezes. Lastly, try to gently arch your back or side stretches a few times before getting started.
  • Bring a timer. Sometimes when we set out to get a job done, we are so focused on the task at hand, that we loose track of time. Staying in one position too long can cause a problem. Set your watch, a kitchen timer or your phone for 20 minutes. Every 20 minutes get up and move, re-stretch a bit or maybe even change tasks to avoid overuse. Use that time to grab a drink of water; it’s important to stay hydrated especially in the warm summer sun.
  • Make a plan. Consider all the jobs that you want to get accomplished in your garden. It would be best if you could break up bigger jobs over more than one day to avoid too much body stress and strain. Can you get the job completed in a few smaller days to give your body a break? Plan bigger projects for when you might have a few moments of assistance from a spouse, friend, neighbor, etc. Or even just take a few well-planned breaks throughout your project.
  • Work smarter. When choosing garden tools, look for tools with long handles to reduce forward-bending. Look for a gardening cart on big sturdy wheels to hold and haul all of your gardening supplies. Instead of carrying them, you can simply place your tools in the cart and pull it to your garden spot. Often, carts have a lid that doubles as a seat to give you a break or help limit bending. If you don’t have a cart, use a 5-gallon bucket. When you get to you garden spot you can turn the bucket upside down and use it as a seat. When it comes to wheelbarrows, look for a 4-wheeled number!  It will be more stable and easier to maneuver around your yard. And don’t forget a simple garden kneeling pad. Sitting or kneeling are good alternatives to all that forward-bending and will go a long way to save your back. One word … mulch! If weeding is a task that keeps you in your garden until the wee hours, a thick layer of mulch will do wonders to reduce weed growth. Lastly, if you have the option, consider installing raised beds in your garden. This will greatly reduce your bending for all your gardening tasks.
  • Use good body mechanics and listen to your body.  When lifting, remember to bend from your knees and hips; don’t lift with your back. Keep the items you are lifting close to your body. Save your back by trying not to lift and carry everything at once — use that cart or wheelbarrow or make more trips. Remember, to listen to your body. Stop if you start to have pain or feel fatigued. You can always come back to your garden later. Stretch and walk around a bit when you are done; try to avoid going in and just sitting for the rest of the evening. If your muscles are sore, consider some ice, heat or a warm bath to soothe the symptoms.

With all this in mind it should make for a great season and garden to be proud of! Enjoy the fruits of your hard work!

Staci Wietfeld, PT, OCS

By Staci Wietfeld, PT, OCS

Physical Therapist at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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