Five Ways to Avoid Common Back Problems Caused By Gardening
It’s that time of year again. Warmer weather has returned, birds are singing and our thoughts have turned to growing things outside. While exercise and fresh air are generally thought of as good things, many gardening activities can lead to significant back pain. Before you put your garden gloves on and grab that shovel, prepare yourself and your body by following these five simple practices.
1. Support Your Back by Strengthening Your Core
Your body’s “core” includes your abdomen, hips and lower back. A strong, flexible core supports your lower back by stabilizing your body and controlling movement. While there are lots of exercises you can do to strengthen your core muscles, you may want to consult your doctor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer prior to starting a workout regimen, to ensure you don’t do more harm than good.
2. Practice Proper Lifting Techniques
Depending on the density of the contents, a cubic foot bag of soil can weigh 60-80 lbs. A full terracotta pot can weigh almost that much or more depending on its size. The ideal way to move something heavy is to get some help from a friend, or to use a tool such as a dolly. If that’s not possible, then make sure you’re engaging your abdominal muscles in order to support your back during lifting, and:
- Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Do not bend at your waist.
- Hold the object close to your body.
- Center it with your core (above your knees, but not higher than your armpit).
- Avoid pivoting, twisting or turning while lifting. Change direction with your feet if you must turn.
Never try to move anything yourself that weighs more than 20% of your body weight. Furthermore, if you are already experiencing back problems or recovering from surgery, make sure that you are following your doctor’s guidelines for what you can lift, and how.
3. Get Low…or Go High
Too often, we bend at the waist when weeding or planting in low beds. Take pressure off of your back and use your leg muscles by getting lower to the garden bed, either by squatting, sitting or by kneeling. If you have knee or hip problems, consider investing in a bed that is raised higher off of the ground and allows you to weed or plant while standing upright.
4. Use the Right Equipment
Using the right tool for the job will not only ease strain on your body, it will likely make the job go faster. The right equipment doesn’t stop at ergonomically correct rakes, shovels, and hoes. Make sure your body is equipped with sturdy, supportive shoes, wear protective clothing, and wear gloves.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Resist the temptation to get everything done in a day. Warm up your body, ease into the work, change your body position often, alternate strenuous activities with easy ones, and take frequent breaks to give your body a chance to recover.
Gardening and yard work is mentally satisfying and can be a great way for people to stay active. However, seemingly mundane tasks can lead to major problems if not done correctly. Gardeners with known or suspected back issues should consult their medical provider before engaging in yard work activities. If you have concerns about the health of your back, or are experiencing pain, contact ShastaOrtho’s Spine Institute to make an appointment to be seen.