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How to Garden Pain-Free

Gardening isn’t exactly an extreme sport, but while you are in the garden, being reckless or trying to do too
much could result in back pain and injury.

Bending over seeding, weeding and watering, the hours can quickly slip by. Then there’s activities like digging, carrying buckets, pushing wheelbarrows and lifting. Done the wrong way, these activities can place strain and stress on our backs, particularly when our bodies are held in unsound positions over a sustained period of time to perform them.

It’s easy to understand how back pain can arise from our pursuits in the garden if we don’t undertake these activities in the right way. And not surprising that in general, about 80% of people experience low back pain at some stage in their lives.

DIY activities around the home can result in a high rate of injury. In Australia it’s been shown that of DIY injuries presented at an Emergency department, 75% of incidents occur in a residential setting, particularly the garden.

Warming up and cooling down is just as important for gardening
activities as it is for sports. Here are some tips for how you can be a
weekend gardening warrior safely and pain-free.

Warming Up and Stretching

  • Warm up with light movement or a brisk walk to loosen your muscles and increase your flexibility. Even walking on the spot has its benefits.
  • Stand up and prop your heel on a back door step or stool with your knee straight. Bend forward until you feel a slight pull in the muscle at the back of the thigh, called the hamstring. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then relax. Do the stretch once more, then repeat with the other leg.
  • Stand up and put your right hand against a wall or other stable surface. Bend your left knee and grab your ankle with your left hand. Pull your heel toward your buttocks to stretch the quadriceps muscles at the front of your thigh. Hold that position for 20 seconds, relax and do it again. Repeat on the other leg.
  • Stand facing a wall. Place your hands flat on the wall at chest level. Put on foot behind you, keeping the foot flat on the ground, and move the other leg slightly forward and gradually lean into the wall. Bend the knee of your front leg as necessary while keeping the back leg straight with both feet flat on the ground. You should feel the stretch in the calf of your rear foot. Hold for 10-15 seconds, then swap legs.
  • Weave your fingers together above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds to stretch the upper body, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.
  • Wrap your arms around yourself and rotate gently to one side until you feel a slight pull. Hold it for 10 seconds, then do it on the other side.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do know your strengths and limitations. Do not overexert, vary your activities, and take regular rest breaks.
  • Don’t  bend over repeatedly while standing upright when performing ground-level work like weeding. Do get down closer to the task by kneeling or sitting on the ground or a gardening bench, rather than bending and twisting from the waist.
  • Do keep your back protected when you stand up from a sitting or crouched position. Rise up by straightening your legs at the knees, not by lifting your torso at the waist.
  • Do lift dirt and plants by letting your arms, legs and thighs carry the load: bend and straighten at the knees instead of the back and hips. Lift the load close to the body’s torso and centre of gravity, and handle smaller, more manageable loads at a time.
  • Do use long-handled tools to give you leverage and help you avoid having to stoop while raking, digging, pushing or mowing.
  • Do switch hands frequently when doing prolonged raking, hoeing or digging actions. Repetitive motion on one side can bring on progressively serious joint imbalances and may produce postural misalignments and pain, including muscle spasms in the neck, shoulder and lower back.
  • Don’t work too long in one position, especially one that is awkward or unusual. This can reduce circulation, restrict mobility, and promote strain injuries.
  • Do carry objects close to your body. Keeping the load close to your centre of gravity reduces the risk of straining your neck and back.
  • Don’t overexpose yourself to long periods in the sun. Some sun is good, but hours in it can be detrimental. Utilize protective measures for your head and skin, and drink plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks.
  • Don’t ignore pain. If you find yourself in pain or discomfort, stop what you are doing and rest for a while. Make an appointment to see Dr. Hooper or your chiropractor for an adjustment.
  • Don’t reach for the Nurofen straight away. Only use it if you really have to. Try a natural anti-inflammatory like Eagle Pharmaceuticals Herni-Disc. These natural medicines will quickly and safely relieve pain and inflammation, without the side effects.
  • Do use magnesium. Magnesium is great for relieving cramping, sore muscles and ensuring proper function of the nervous system. This is especially important if you garden regularly. Try Bioceuticals Ultra Muscleze for a great, potent magnesium supplement.

Further Reading:

If you like this article be sure to visit the Spinal Centre website at www.thespinalcentre.com.au and view more content by Dr. Hooper and the Spinal Rehabilitation Team.

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