Around 27 million people in the UK are regular gardeners. Another 3 million people took up gardening for the first time during lockdown. Lots of us will be going out in the garden now growing season is here, getting it ready to receive friends and family.
It won’t be a surprise to many of you to hear that gardening has benefits for physical and mental health. It is a great way to include exercise in your daily life without really trying. It provides strength training and reduces stress. But as with any exercise, it is important to manage the activity, especially if you have done little of it over the winter/spring.
As osteopaths we want to make sure you can enjoy gardening without injuring yourself, so we have some tips on looking after your back (and knees!) when you’re putting out the bedding plants.
It makes sense to warm up before you start any heavy lifting. You can do a simple stretch by reaching your arms above your head and leaning slightly to each side to get your back muscles moving. A short walk around the block before beginning work is another good way to loosen up. Simple precautions like these are especially useful if you are already susceptible to back pain.
Use a safe body position
Using an ergonomically safe position when gardening will stop you being uncomfortable or putting strain on your body. When working at ground level, avoid bending from a standing position. Use a kneeling pad or even get down on all fours. A kneeling pad, or a covered cushion from the house, will reduce pressure on your knee joints. We recommend avoiding deep squatting, which can irritate arthritic knees.
When reaching up to prune or doing something else at height, use tools to help you. Always work within arms reach. Avoid the temptation to stretch for a further branch. Move the ladder! Using longer or telescopic tools will help avoid straining your back or arms from over reaching.
Lift it safely
You may already know a safe lifting technique. Before starting, always check whether the object is safe to lift on your own. If you are unsure, try to lift one corner to test the weight. If you think you cannot lift it easily, ask someone else to help you or use a trolley to move your load. Water and soil add a lot of weight. Move gardening containers into their final position before filling them
When lifting a load yourself, bend your knees and hips, not your back. Keep your legs hip width apart, putting one foot slightly in front of the other to create a firm balance. Imagine your foot position as opposite corners of a box drawn on the floor. Never twist your back when lifting.
Avoid repetitive strains
Working in one way repetitively can take its toll on your body and cause injuries. We recommend not doing it. For example when raking, or scarifying a lawn, change sides every so often to break up the pattern. Holding a trowel or cutting with secateurs, can cause RSI. Do not twist when working. Mow the lawn in straight lines. A mower is a heavy weight and swinging it from side to side can irritate the muscles and joints in your back.
Take it easy
Many of us have been guilty at one time or another of continuing an activity beyond the point of tiredness because we wanted to get it done. Try to break up any intense activity into manageable chunks. To conserve your strength, you can switch between tasks such as heavy digging and light potting. Take regular breaks, keep hydrated and eat well during a day in the garden.
Gardening doesn’t need to be hard work. If it is becoming difficult, you can make changes for the long term, such as installing raised beds or containers.
When you’ve finished, have a bit of a stretch. Take a hot bath. Relax. Tea break!
If you are getting aches and pains from gardening, or pain is preventing you from getting started, we are here to help.
Give us a call on 0208 660 9912 if you need us
Everybody active every day https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/353384/Everybody_Active__Every_Day_evidence_based_approach_CONSULTATION_VERSION.pdf
Article by Angela Winchester , Osteopath at Coulsdon Osteopathic Clinic
Photo by Hao Pan on Unsplash