Treat Gardening as a Sport & Save your Back Care for Your Back When Gardening
By Dr. William Madosky
Because gardening is terrific exercise in the fresh air and rewarding on so many levels, we often underestimate the time and effort it will take and overestimate our physical abilities. You can greatly reduce the chances for pain and injury while gardening by tuning into your body and observing the following techniques:
- Treat gardening as a sport. Begin gardening by warming up as you would before any sports activity. Stretch the most frequently used muscles in the upper and lower body so they become more flexible and able to handle the tasks at hand. Don’t forget to stretch after finishing your work to help relax muscles and reduce soreness later.
- Carefully plan how much time is required. Realistically assess how much you can accomplish. Most injuries occur from doing too much too quickly.
Keep good body mechanics in mind. Carefully lift heavy bags of dirt or mulch. Keep your back straight, bend at the knees, lift with the strength of your legs and hold the bag as closely to your body as possible. When digging with a shovel, lift the dirt and turn your entire body before emptying the contents. Avoid lifting, twisting and throwing, especially if the soil is wet or clay.
- Alternate your activities to use different muscle groups. Frequently vary your activities to minimize the repetitive stress placed on your spine and adjoining muscles.
Use a cushion, stool or small bench when weeding. This helps to avoid strain on your knees and lower back.
- Take frequent breaks. Minimize the chance of injury by taking breaks every 30 to 60 minutes. Take a few minutes to stretch, get a drink of water and evaluate what you want to do next.
- Stop gardening before you become fatigued. Most injuries occur when you are trying to do “one last thing.” If you feel stiff, sore or experience pain, use ice on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. If the pain persists or becomes more intense, stop gardening and consult you health care provider.
Dr. Madosky also offers gardening advice for individuals who have chronic back, neck, shoulder, knee or wrist pain. People who have difficulty grasping small items or bending should consider special tools with longer handles and larger hand grips. Meanwhile, platform gardening elevates the garden bed for those who have challenges kneeling or bending.
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