Shifnal Chiropractic Clinic

01952 460 947

Gardening top tips


Gardening and back pain

Looking out of my kitchen window this morning, one thing was brought forcefully to mind.  I really need to get out into my garden and sort out the Triffid (also known as campanula) that is threatening to take over my garden...and the world.  Naturally this opened up a whole topic that would be perfect for this week’s blog, considering the amount of growing going on in our gardens at the moment.

A frequent complaint that people tell me about is that they are struggling to keep on top of their gardening because their back causes such a lot of trouble during, and after, a bout of weed-pulling, digging and cutting back.  Or their knees ache.  Or their arms.  Or shoulders.  Or...well, the list goes on.  The point is that gardening can seem like such a gentle occupation yet it is capable of great harm.

It doesn’t need to be, if you remember a few simple rules.

First, warm up. Gardening can be strenuous, and like any physical activity it is important to take care of your body before and after, as well as before.  Try to go for a short, gentle walk before you start.  Maybe include a few knee-bends and slowly swing your arms around to loosen your shoulders.  This doesn’t have to take long, and you can do it inside if you don’t want to look a bit of a prawn standing outside doing a windmill act, but it will help.  A few stretches for your lower back, legs and arms after you finish gardening will also help with any soreness the next day.

Next, remember  tea breaks are vital.  Whatever you are doing, it is extremely important that you take regular breaks to change your position.  It doesn’t have to be a literal tea break, but at least change what you are doing.  This can be quite hard to do initially – you have to get the whole lawn cut, and stopping every 15mins isn’t going to get that done!  Well, it will take longer certainly, but there is almost always more than one job you need to get on top of in the garden, so why not select two or three and rotate them? 15 minutes of cutting the lawn goes in to 15 minutes of weeding, then 15 minutes of trimming back the shrubs...then a 15 minute tea break, and repeat!

The other trouble with jobs such as weeding is position.  The ground is all the way down there, and your hands all the way up here, and somehow one has to approach the other in order to reach the weeds that are threatening your pansies.  Ground can come up to hands – raised borders – but realistically that’s not going to be possible in 99.9999% of cases! So hands have to go down to ground.  And you can guess what’s coming.  BEND ZE KNEES! Whatever you do, don’t spend any length of time with your legs straight, bending through your back to reach the ground.  It will hurt.  A lot.  Instead, try to squat down, either on to your haunches or onto your knees if they can take it, and keep your back as straight as possible.  Garden kneeler steps are very useful for this, as they get you most of the way down while often providing a rail to help you back up again.  If you really can’t get down like this, then consider investing in some long-handled weeding tools, which allow you to remove the weeds from your borders without having to bend down at all.

Finally, when it comes to jobs such as hedge trimming, raking, sweeping and even lawn mowing, remember equality is best.  All of these jobs rely on a certain amount of twisting through your body, either to manoeuvre the tool around or simply in the action of pulling a rake or pushing a brush.  Ideally, this movement would be avoided altogether as your back is never going to appreciate being wrenched around repeatedly.  However, that’s not always an option, so a compromise must be achieved.  Try to do things with your non-dominant side every once in a while.  If you are right-handed, switch to using your left hand whenever possible to try and keep any stress on your body equally distributed, which will then lessen the effect.  For those truly ambidextrous people among you, try to make it a 50/50 split and you will be doing everything possible to protect those joints.

In summary then: warm up; change activity or take a break every 15 minutes or so; try not to bend through your back when getting down and dirty with the weeds; switch which hand you are using as often as possible to minimise one-sided stress on your body; and then do a gentle cool-down of stretches.  Five tips – follow them, and gardening can be the pleasure you are looking for!

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