How to Avoid Autumn Gardening Aches and Pains
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
This past weekend, my muscles reminded me that it’s important to be careful while working in the garden.
I was busy cleaning up the remains of my backyard vegetable garden, raking leaves and tidying up my yard.
This is the time of the year when most gardeners are out in their gardens and yards raking leaves, pulling weeds and cleaning up to get ready for winter. This can lead to aches and pains.
Ontario chiropractors were surveyed and 88% of them said that the number one contributor to neck and back pain is gardening especially in the spring when the weather gets warmer…but also at this time of year.
As a result, the Ontario Chiropractic Association does a public education media campaign every year to remind people to take care of their backs and bodies as they are out working in the yard and the garden. It's called ‘Plant and Rake Without the Ache’.
Here are some tips to keep you safe and avoid injury while you are out working in your garden:
1) Warm Up and S-t-r-e-t-c-h Before You Start:
Gardening can be a strenuous activity and before you begin, you should take the time to warm up with a 5 to 10 minute walk (even on the spot) and you should do some simple stretching of your arms, legs and lower back. Stretches should be gentle and should not cause pain so be sure not to bounce, jerk or strain as you stretch.
I like to tell my patients to think of working in the garden like an athletic endeavor and just as I would advise any athlete to warm up before they perform their sport, I would advise any gardener to warm up before heading out to dig in the dirt.
Just as we discussed in a previous post, this is especially important as we get older, because the connective tissues and muscles around our joints are less flexible and less pliable than when we were younger. As a result, you can’t just stand up from sitting all day and jump right into your garden work….you’ll get injured.
2) Bend Your Knees to Lift With Ease
As we discussed when we learned about safe lifting techniques, you should take precautions when your gardening chores require you to lift and move dirt, or mulch or heavy containers.
- Get Close to the Load: Before lifting something heavy, position yourself close to the object. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, head up, with your feet and your body pointing in the same direction.
- Knees bent, back straight: Check the weight of what you are lifting so that it is not heavier or lighter than you thought. If it seems too heavy, make sure to get help! Use your strong leg and arm muscles to smoothly and slowly lift the load.
- Keep Your Nose Between Your Toes: While carrying the load, keep it close to your body and when you move, pivot with your feet rather than twisting your body.
- Easy Does It: When lowering the load to its intended place, bend your knees and slowly lower it down.
- Do not lift heavy objects above your waist and if you’ve been kneeling to weed or plant or if you’ve just come outside from sitting for awhile inside, make sure than you wait for 10 or 15 minutes before you do any heavy lifting.
3) Use The Right Moves and the Right Tools
- Alternate gardening chores from heavy to light to heavy to light. This approach will allow your body some recovery between difficult jobs to decrease your chance of injury.
- Change hands often or change the position of your hands to take the strain off of the hand doing the digging or planting or weeding.
- Check your position and change it often. Kneel for awhile, then stand. Sit on a garden stool while weeding or planting. Also make sure to take breaks and sit and relax every once in awhile.
- Rake right: Ease the strain on your back by putting one leg in front, the other behind and sway back and forth with your legs rather than having your back do all the work. Switch legs and hands from time to time to allow muscles a rest.
- Kneel to plant. Use knee pads or a kneeling mat to reduce the strain while you plant and weed. Keep your back straight and take breaks frequently.
4) Take a Break and Drink Some Water
We already mentioned that taking breaks every once in awhile is a good idea to give your body a rest and prevent injury. It’s also a good idea to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration especially if the weather is hot.
Gardening is an excellent form of physical activity but it can lead to aches and pains and injuries if you don’t take care to protect your muscles and joints as you get outside this fall to clean up your yards and gardens. So start slowly, do a little bit at a time and ‘Plant and Rake Without the Ache’.
Enjoy the crisp fall air. Happy Autumn!
For more information on the OCA's media campaign check out www.chiropractic.on.ca.
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.
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