1. Warm up and move before you garden Many people don’t realize, but gardening is a strenuous activity on the muscles and joints of the human body. Just as you would warm up prior to a sporting activity, workout, or run, you should take the time to ready your body for common gardening tasks of digging, planting, weeding, mulching and raking. One option is to start with a simple 5-10 minute walk to get your heart rate up. You could also get your body moving with some light stretching; roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side, bending forward at the trunk, back, and rotate side to side, and reach overhead with both arms and elongate your trunk side to side. Just move. Trust me, you will thank me later.
2. Listen to your body and take breaks Be mindful of how your body feels and what it is telling you. If you start to feel an aching back or neck slow down, stretch, or stop what you are doing and switch to a different task or activity. I know it seems simple, but a lot of people just ignore it until soreness and aches turn into lingering pain. Your body adapts to specific stresses placed upon it. If you largely have been inactive over the winter months and you go out and start gardening your muscles and joints are not primed or ready for the specific movements and stresses that gardening entails. Even if you are feeling good, taking a break every 20-30 minutes is a good practice to help muscles and tissue relax and will minimize soreness later.
3. Change positions frequently By changing positions frequently it will help prevent soreness and pain in muscles, joints, and tissues that are not used to the specific positions, movements, and lifts that are required with gardening. For example, if you’ve been leaning forward gardening for more than a few minutes and your back starts to ache, stand up slowly and gently lean backwards a few times to relax the tissue. Changing your position in the opposite direction will alleviate stressed tissues.
4. Save your knees If you must kneel, use knee pads, a gardening pad or pillow to absorb some of the pressure. If kneeling on both knees causes pain in your back, try kneeling o
n one knee and keep one foot on the ground, which will provide more stability to your back.
5. Use proper body mechanics There are many different positions used in gardening including lifting, squatting, carrying and pulling. Proper body mechanics is when you put your body in effective positions that are strong and safe to avoid injury and pain. First, when picking something up or pulling on a weed, you should practice bending at the knees, not the hips. You also want to minimize twisting at the back when moving heavy loads side to side such as when shoveling. Instead use your feet to move around to turn your body as one unit. Furthermore, pushing is always preferred over pulling, as we are more capable of safely generating more force with pushing. Lastly, get close to your yard work to avoid over stretching and placing additional stress on your body.
6. Use proper tools to assist you Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move heavier objects. This isn’t a competition. There is no need to show off how strong you are. If you have knee or hip pain try sitting on a bucket and adding a seat cushion will provide hours of comfort while gardening. If possible, elevate your flower beds and containers to a comfortable height. Also, maintain your gardening tools and equipment. Nothing fancy here, but getting some lighter tools that are longer handled and cushioned will keep your hands happy.
7. Keep moving after you garden I know, more movement. There’s a reason I keep bringing it up. A body in motion stays in motion. Ending your gardening session with some light stretching and movement will help minimize aches and pains and help facilitate healing of stressed tissue. Go on a short walk or perform the same stretches you did prior to your gardening session.
If any of your aches and pains isn’t managed with these tips and they continue to linger, a physical therapist can help. Call us at 1-888-THERAPY and we will take a closer look.
Dr. Josa J. Martin, PT, DPT Physical Therapist
Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Ramsey Physical Therapy
Back, Blog. PT & Me. Your Guide to Physical Therapy, 13 March
Young, Tony. innovation Physical Therapy. 7 Tips for Pain-Free Gardening, 15 June 2015, https://innovationphysio.com/blog/7-tips-for-pain-free-gardening/
Avruskin, Andrea. ChoosePT, Provided by APTA. 7 Tips to Avoid Aches and Pains While Gardening, https://www.choosept.com/resources/detail/gardening