How To Prevent Back Pain When Gardening

Gardening is a fulfilling activity that connects us with nature and offers significant physical and mental health benefits. Recognized for its therapeutic qualities, healthcare professionals frequently recommend gardening to enhance overall wellbeing. However, without proper precautions, even everyday gardening tasks such as weeding, digging, and mowing can lead to lower back pain, which can be debilitating. Fortunately, with a few simple strategies, you can continue to enjoy gardening while minimising the risk of injury.

Understanding and Preventing Back Pain in Gardening

Gardening often involves movements that can strain the back, such as bending, twisting, and lifting heavy objects like bags of topsoil. These actions can pressure the lower back significantly, leading to pain and inflammation. Back pain from gardening typically appears later in the day or even the day after, manifesting as stiffness or severe discomfort. Awareness of and alleviating these risks is important for maintaining your health and enjoyment of gardening.

Practical Tips for Safe Gardening

Warm-Up and Stretch

Start with a warm-up routine that includes stretching exercises for the arms, legs, back, and shoulders and light cardiovascular activities. This increases blood flow to the muscles, reduces the risk of injury, and prepares your body for the physical tasks ahead.

In case you’re wondering what that might look like, imagine vigorously shaking water off first one arm and then the other, then repeat with each leg. Very gently raise your heels off the ground and drop down onto your heels whilst allowing your shoulders to relax and you’ll find that this will create a passive shrugging of the shoulders. At the same time relax your jaw, tongue and mouth and let your breath flow freely – even make a slight aaahhh sound on exhalation. Now, gently slap the big powerful muscle groups such as the tops of your shoulders, your buttocks and the backs, sides and front of both legs; don’t forget to lightly tap your head and face with your finger tips. Taken together, this quick routine will wake up your body and breathing before you move on to do a couple of minutes of stretching.

Adopt Correct Postures and protect your back

  1. Use proper body mechanics when lifting objects or performing tasks like weeding.
  2. Bend at the knees, not the waist. This is called a ‘hip hinge’ and is the basis of many strength training exercises. You can see an example in the video below.
  3. Maintain a straight back to protect your spine and use the strength of your legs.
  4. Avoid twisting your spine or knees when moving objects; pivot with your feet.

Many gardeners inadvertently strain their backs by bending over improperly when employing safer techniques. Instead of hunching forward from the waist, a more practical approach involves bending at the knees and keeping the back straight, akin to squatting. This method protects the spine and leverages the strength of the legs, thereby minimising the risk of back injuries. Adopting correct postures and movements can significantly enhance gardening safety and efficiency. Make sure you click through to the video of safe gardening practices as previously shared with our patients.

Another option to protect yourself from frequent bending to attend to your plants is to use raised planters for your garden. These are essentially boxes or containers that are raised off the ground, allowing you to garden at a more comfortable height. This can be especially helpful to avoid bending over for long periods of time. 

Use Ergonomic Tools: Maintaining good posture while gardening is crucial to prevent strain and injuries. To achieve this, it’s recommended to choose appropriate gardening tools that are suitable for the task at hand. For example, short-handled tools are ideal for close work such as weeding or planting, while long-handled tools are more suitable for tasks that require reach, such as pruning or trimming. By selecting the right tools, you can minimise the need to bend or stretch awkwardly, ensuring a comfortable and safe gardening experience.

Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries With Smart Gardening Techniques

To avoid repetitive strain injuries while gardening, rotating between different gardening tasks every 15 minutes and taking short breaks is advisable. This simple technique helps avoid overuse of the same muscle groups and keeps gardening a pleasant experience. This is precisely the same advice for spending a long day at the office of a long stint of any kind of prolonged physical activity.

Lifting Safely When In The Garden

To prevent injury while lifting in the garden, avoid straining your back by not rushing or taking chances with pots and sacks of bark, compost, or heavy tools.  

One notable example of a professional in his field who regretted taking a chance while lifting, involves the skilled strongman competitor Eddie Hall. Hall is well-known for his remarkable strength feats, including winning the World’s Strongest Man competition in 2017. Despite his experience and knowledge about proper lifting techniques, Hall experienced a significant injury due to lifting awkwardly, highlighting the risks involved in even the most controlled environments. While you may not want to win any strong lifting competitions, this incident serves as a reminder of the importance of using proper lifting techniques and the potential consequences of taking chances with awkward lifts.

When you personally need to lift heavy objects while working in the garden, make sure to use your legs instead of your back. To do this, keep your back straight and lift the object using your hips. Imagine that you have a pole running from the top of your head down to your tailbone, which will help you maintain the correct posture while lifting. If you follow this link you can find Paul talking about and demonstrating lifting heavy and/or awkward objects in the garden.

Protect Your Knees

Gardening can be hard on your knees too, especially if you spend a lot of time bending over to plant or weed. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect your knees while gardening. One effective way to do this is by using knee pads. These can provide cushioning and support for your knees, reducing the risk of injury or strain. There are many types of knee pads available, from simple foam pads to more advanced designs with gel or air pockets for added comfort.

Maintaining Good Posture While Raking 

To avoid back strain while raking, it is essential to maintain good posture. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart when standing and bend your knees slightly to avoid putting too much pressure on your back. Hold the rake close to your body and use your arms and shoulders to move it instead of your back. Take breaks frequently to stretch your back and legs, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Treat raking like any physical exercise, and focus on your posture to prevent discomfort. Remember, good posture is the key to a pain-free raking experience!

Know When to Seek Help: If you experience severe pain, stop gardening and consider immediate rest and applying hot or cold compresses. Consulting a healthcare professional for advice or treatment, such as physiotherapy or osteopathy, may be necessary for persistent pain.

The Role of Osteopathy in Gardening Injuries

For gardeners experiencing persistent discomfort, osteopathy can offer relief and recovery by addressing the root causes of pain. Tailored treatment plans focus on improving movement and comfort, ultimately enhancing quality of life and allowing gardeners to continue their passion without limitations.

By following these guidelines, whether you are a horticulturist or a keen green thumb, these tips can safeguard your health, prevent back pain, and allow you to enjoy the myriad benefits of gardening.

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