Gardening Like a Pro
Spring is finally here, which means a lot of us will be spending increasing amounts of time out in the garden over the next few months. Many of us have been self-quarantining, and a socially distant trip to your garden is an excellent (and safe!) activity that can improve movement and your personal health.
Research has shown that gardening can help to improve public health. Studies from across the globe have demonstrated broad health benefits of gardening, including reduced depression and anxiety, increases in life satisfaction and quality of life, and a boosted sense of community. Additionally, people who garden have shown a significantly lower body mass index, which is directly tied to health.
Since gardening is physically active, it’s also full of health benefits! But all those hours knee-deep in dirt and pulling weeds can be physically demanding, especially if you only break out the gardening gloves once a year. Gardening without using proper body mechanics/posture can lead to injuries that will keep you out of the garden if you are not careful.
The most common gardening injury is from kneeling
Our therapists see gardeners with knee and back pain due to improper kneeling while working in the garden. The best thing that gardeners can do is buy a well-padded set of knee pads or a light, easy-to-move mat. Protecting your knees will allow you to kneel for longer periods and reach parts of the garden that are more difficult. This limits significant straining, which can hurt your back.
If you generally have a difficult time getting up from a kneeling position, bring a stool or chair with you to push up on to assist you in standing.
How can a physical therapist help?
Your physical therapist can recommend exercises that will target your abdominals so that when you are on all fours in the garden, you do not start to experience low back cramping.
PT Tip: Lift with the knees!
Squatting and bending to lift are common culprits for back injuries and are the most common thing we see in physical therapy. Gardening with improper squatting/bending can put a large strain on the low back. When possible, try to kneel rather than stay in a bent over and squatting position for prolonged periods.
If you squat to lift an object, no matter how heavy, be sure to lift with your knees rather than your back. Ensure that you are “squared up” with the object you plan to lift and set your hips forward rather than twisting. Low back injuries often occur when your upper body twists in a different direction than your hips.
How can your physical therapist help?
Hip strength, hip strength, hip strength! Strengthening hip muscles can help take the load off the low back.
Your physical therapist can also assess whether or not your body mechanics are appropriate when bending, lifting, and squatting. They will provide feedback and tips to ensure that you are protecting yourself as much as possible.
GARDENING LIKE A PRO…
Before you head outside this weekend, here are a few tips for preventing sore muscles and injuries, so that one day in the garden doesn’t leave you out of commission for the rest of the spring:
- Loosen Up. Warm up the same way you would for any other physical activity. Take a short walk and stretch your muscles, incorporating moves that involve bending, reaching out in front of you, and loosening your legs and core. If you don’t feel like walking around the block, take a few laps around your yard, picking up twigs and sticks that are lying around.
- Warm Up. Perform some very easy warmups to reduce post-gardening soreness or injury.
- Neck circles
- Shoulder circles
- Leg swings (forward and backward)
- Lunges (if your knees feel okay doing this)
- Slow rotations of the back with arms across your chest
- Take A Seat. Weeding, digging, and planting can involve a LOT of bending over, which can cause back, hip, and knee pain. Avoid spending more than 20 minutes at a time kneeling or squatting. Instead, try sitting on a bucket or stool and stand up every now and then to take the pressure off your knees.
- Maintain Good Mechanics. Always keep your shoulders back and down, don’t let them roll forward and up towards your ears. That’ll keep you from straining your shoulders and upper back! When pulling weeds, bend at the hips instead of hunching your back. When heavy lifting is involved, bend your knees and use your legs, not your back. Using the right tools for the job will also help to keep your posture correct.
- Dig Safe. When digging with a shovel, be sure to square up your shoulders and hips to the object you are digging into. If you are throwing the soil into a pile nearby, very carefully shuffle your feet (do not twist at the spine), and lunge towards the pile while throwing the soil.
- Time Out. Have a plan for what you want to get done in the garden and limit yourself to that. At first, do not spend more than 30 minutes in the garden and work your way up to more time.
- Rest Up. If your soreness is more than just soreness (pain!), give yourself some good rest before gardening again. If this pain persists, reach out to your physical therapist!
- Drink Up. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids when out in the garden and protect yourself from the sun. Sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, and long sleeves can be very helpful in the long run.
- Cool Off. Expect some soreness after the first day or two. Your body has been cooped up all winter and is not used to so much activity! If you do have soreness, some icing or a heat pack is recommended for 10-20 minutes of use. Be sure the keep layers between your skin and the ice/heat pack to avoid injuring the skin.
LET US HELP WITH THE PESKY PAINS…
These tips should have you gardening the spring away without aches and pains! But, if you do notice soreness or pain that doesn’t go away after a few days, give us a call. Keeping the garden alive, however, is a totally different story – we, unfortunately, can’t help with the green thumb thing. To book a free consultation with one of our musculoskeletal experts, get in touch today!