Have you ever finished a day in the garden and noticed that although your lawn and borders look fantastic, your back is screaming at you?
The concept that a lot of people don’t consider is that gardening is a form of exercise, which means that it needs to be treated with the same consideration.
If you were going to embark on an exercise regime you would ensure that you stretched properly, that you learned the right techniques to keep you from injuring yourself, and that you had the right equipment. These same principles apply to avid gardeners, particularly if you have pre-existing back problems. Here are some tips for protecting your back while gardening.
Warm-up and cool down
If you attend any kind of exercise class, you will spend at least five minutes at the beginning and at the end warming up and cooling down.
Warming up gets your blood pumping and activates your muscles so that they are ready for what you are about to ask them to do. Cooling down gently stretches your muscles, and helps to avoid the tension and pain that comes along with doing exercise and suddenly stopping.
Spending a couple of minutes doing some yoga stretches before you start and when you finish will help to protect your back, and minimize back pain.
Take regular breaks
If you spend a long period of time in the same position, for example when you’re weeding or pruning, this can start to cause back pain.
When you’re gardening it’s important to take regular breaks to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff. You can do this by setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to stop what you’re doing every so often and take a short walk or stretch.
Switching positions regularly will also help to protect your back when gardening, so try to structure your time in the garden so you don’t spend long periods of time on one task.
Use the right tools
If you love gardening, it makes sense to invest in good-quality equipment that will protect your back, and also to structure your garden in a way that makes it as easy as possible for you to take care of.
A lot of gardeners find that riding lawn mowers are much easier on the back than regular mowers because they don’t require you to push them around for long periods of time.
You could also consider investing in other back-friendly gardening tools such as:
- Kneeling pads and seats for weeding and planting.
- Raised planters so that you don’t have to bend so far to reach your plants.
- Wrist protection braces.
- Supportive footwear: look out for shoes that provide good arch support in particular.
- Longer weeders mean you don’t have to bend over quite so much.
When you’re gardening, particularly in the warmer months, it’s essential that you take a break to hydrate every so often.
Good hydration is important for spinal health. If you are consistently dehydrated this can begin to cause your spine to become less flexible, leading to pain and decreased mobility. This is because the discs in your spine require water to function as they need to, and without adequate hydration, they can’t.
If you find that you don’t stop for water breaks, make it easier for yourself by taking a bottle of water outside with you, or setting a reminder on your phone to hydrate every so often.
Be careful when lifting
Plant pots and other garden ornaments can be deceptively heavy, and it’s vital that you learn to lift correctly if you want to avoid injuring your spine.
When lifting it’s important that you begin in a squat position, and that you keep a straight back. Lift with the object close to you by slowly straightening your legs. Lifting in this way means that the work is done by the large muscles in your thighs, rather than your back.
It’s also important that you don’t try to lift anything that’s too heavy for you. For heavy items always get help from someone, or where possible use equipment to help you such as dollies or wagons.
Try vertical gardening
One of the main reasons that gardening starts to cause pain is because gardeners are bent over so often.
Vertical gardening is the trend of growing plants up walls rather than flat on the ground, using specially designed structures that are mounted to a wall and contain the soil and irrigation systems that plants need to thrive.
Critically, they also mean that you can garden at eye level, which will help to protect your back and reduce the risk of pain.
Vertical gardening also has the added bonus of taking up less space, which makes it a great option for those of us with smaller gardens who still want to enjoy the benefits of abundant plant life.