Spring has finally arrived! We again find ourselves outdoors, ready to enjoy the sunny days and fresh air. Spring is when we clear away the winter debris and prep our gardens. Though many of us think gardening is a light activity, it’s a common contributor to neck pain, shoulder and wrist pain, low back and knee pain. To help avoid gardening-related injuries, try these tips.
Wear Comfortable and Supportive Footwear
Though we all love to swap out snow boots for sandals, open-toed shoes don’t provide the protection needed when we are raking away winter debris, or using gardening tools. With the ground a mix between frozen and muddy, opt for closed-toed shoes. This will help prevent injuries should you drop something on your feet, or avoid cutting your toes when walking over debris. In addition, ensure your shoes have good ankle support to help prevent tripping and rolling your ankle when walking on uneven terrain.
Use Ergonomic Tools
Selecting the right tools for the job is important to help avoid repetitive strains and injuries. Use garden tools with:
- Long handles: long handles reduce the amount of bending and straining you have to do when working above and below waist height. For those with difficulty balancing, try reach extenders. These avoid the need for climbing ladders.
- Proper grip: ensure the garden tool fits your hand well. If it’s too big or too awkward to hold, you are likely to drop the tool, or strain your hand trying to use it.
- Lightweight: this helps avoid excess pressure and strain on your wrists and arms.
- Padding: look for tools with padding and easy grip handles that will provide comfort, shock absorption, and a secure grip to help avoid strains, sprains, and blisters that come from repetitive tasks.
- Waterproof/Weatherproof: as you will be spending many hours in the garden over the spring and summer in varying weather conditions, ensure whatever you buy is durable and able to withstand the elements.
Use Cushions and Padding
There are many options nowadays to make gardening more comfortable and spare your spine in the process when working on your hands and knees. Consider getting kneel pads, knee pads you can add to/in your clothing, or a cushioned seat to avoid unnecessary strain on your knees and low back. For those with difficulty kneeling, bending, and squatting, consider switching to elevated growing beds.
Use Proper Lifting Techniques
Growing up, I always heard that gardening was a “gentle, light activity”. Between carrying pots, soil, ergonomic tools, or pulling out weeds, I think it’s anything but. When lifting, ensure you position yourself close to the item, keep your back straight, hinge at the hips, brace your core, and bend your knees. Avoiding bending forward at the waist or grabbing the object at arm’s length to prevent back injuries. Ensure when lifting to use your arms and legs and hold the item closer to your core.
Take Posture Breaks
It’s amazing how quickly time goes by when working in your garden. To avoid neck, shoulder, wrist, low back, and knee pain and stiffness, ensure to take breaks every 45 minutes to stretch. Have a hard time remembering to take a break? Set an alarm on your phone to remind you it’s time to rest.
Research shows that standing too long or sitting too long is hard on the body and contributes to poor posture. Find yourself working on your hands and knees for a while? Try changing tasks to something that involves walking around your backyard, or requires standing. By alternating positions, you are resetting your posture, and avoiding unnecessary strain on your spine and joints.
Just like your plants need water to thrive, so do you! Ensure you bring a reusable water bottle outside, and take time to drink water throughout the day.
Talk To Your Chiropractor
Find yourself experiencing low back pain, shoulder pain, or neck pain after spending hours getting your garden ready for the season? Talk to your chiropractor. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose the cause of your pain and provide lifestyle recommendations such as stretches, strengthening exercises, and ergonomic tips to help you get back to doing what you love while reducing and minimizing aches and pains.
By: Dr. Elizabeth Carter