The secret to a healthy garden is a healthy gardener.
Summer has finally arrived, and that means plenty of time to work in the garden! Gardening is a popular hobby, but like any other activity it can take a toll on your body if not done carefully. Gardening is an active pursuit that can cause muscle strain to the lower back, shoulders, knees and arms, especially if you are out of shape and do not move properly. To get the most of your gardening, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association recommends the following tips and techniques.
Start with stretching as a warm-up, take stretch breaks and finish with cool down stretching. Perform a variety of stretches for your back, legs, neck, shoulders, hands and fingers to prevent injury. Stretches should be comfortably held for about 15 seconds and repeated about 3 times. Do some shoulder circles, trunk rotation, and heel/toe stands. You might even ‘rehearse’ movements, like raking, as part of your warm-up. If you begin to feel a bit stiff while gardening, pause and do more stretches.
Be aware of your body mechanics and posture. Keep objects close to your body when lifting, and rotate your feet instead of twisting your back. Know your limits and lift properly: bend your knees, not your back and avoid twisting or reaching. Keep the load close to your body. Don’t lift items that are too heavy for you to handle – get help.
Position your body at the height of your work. Do not bend forward from the waist. Squat or kneel on a kneeling pad if you are working on the ground. If you are potting, put your plants on a table. Allow your body to work in a comfortable posture within this “easy zone”. Activity outside your “easy zone” may cause sprains and strains. Keep your work in front of and close to your body to avoid reaching and twisting. Don’t stretch beyond your reach and rehearse the movement as a stretch first to test your positioning.
Avoid one handed work. Most repetitive strain injuries occur when one hand is doing most of the work. Use your other hand to grip a long handle or use both hands together to help dig.
Use tools that work for you. Keep tools close by to avoid reaching and twisting. Consider using a wheelbarrow to help with heavy objects, and use tools with ergonomic handles. Give your back, legs and knees a break from stooping and kneeling by using tools with long handles to help with the weeding. Match the size of the gardening tool handle to the size of your hand. Tools with larger, padded handles are more comfortable for gardeners with painful or arthritic hands. Adapt your tools for ease and comfort for example padding the handles or wrapping a slippery handle with tape or foam to improve your grip. Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands and joints. Keep tools (such as your pruners) sharp to make cutting easier.
Take breaks. Make sure you pace yourself in order to avoid overworking a specific muscle or muscle group. Consider switching tasks frequently as this helps to avoid repetitive strain and over-use injuries. Spread heavy lifting and digging tasks over a week rather than a weekend, and spread major projects throughout the seasons.
Be realistic! Your body can only perform at the level of effort and endurance it is accustomed to. For maximum benefit, physiotherapists recommend regular physical activity and stretching to maintain your physical mobility throughout the year. Enjoy the season and don’t be limited by the aches and pains. Physiotherapy can help you continue to be a healthy gardener! If you are experiencing limitation in the garden, call us at 613-692-1847 or send us an email at email@example.com to see if we can help!
By: Amy Mahoney
Registered Physiotherapist/ Clinic Co-Owner