“Back” in the Garden Safety
For many North Americans, gardening is the most joyful activity of summer. But if you love to garden and you also suffer from back pain, you know that you can cause yourself a lot of grief unless you follow some basic ergonomic principles.
Gardening, of course, is a seasonal activity in most of North America. During the winter, few of us make much use of the muscle groups we employ for typical gardening activities. The one exception is washing floors, but, truthfully, how often do you do that?
But even if you linger over the linoleum daily from October to March, it's still important to warm up and stretch your muscles before you dig. Here's a tip - the easiest way to warm up your muscles is to take a hot shower BEFORE you garden. This is called a passive warm-up. You'll still need to stretch, but you can do this in the garden. Use the same motions you use when weeding, raking, digging, etc. - whatever your planned tasks - but do them slowly, holding each stretch for about 10 seconds.
It's also important to do some gentle stretching after you garden, especially if you've overdone it and your muscles feel tight. Another hot shower can help as well.
Another rule: Go slow! When the weather breaks, it's tempting to turn over ALL the earth on the first afternoon. Trouble is, by the time your back aches, you've already done too much. By pacing yourself, you can ensure that your back will be fit enough to garden again next weekend!
A third principle to keep in mind is that a change is as good as a rest. Vary your activities rather than doing all your weeding, for instance, at once. In other words, shovel for a few minutes, dump, rake, weed. Rest for a while, then repeat.
Avoid staying in any one position for too long. Gardening involves bending, kneeling, standing, walking, and reaching; don't spend more than 15 minutes in any one of these positions before changing to something else.
Also, don't mix and match activities with positions. If you're crouching down to weed, don't suddenly reach up and stretch to snip at a stray vine. Don't bend forward with your knees straight. And as in any activity, try not to lift and twist at the same time.
Remember to hold heavy objects close to your body. So what if they're muddy - getting dirty is part and parcel of gardening's charm.
Finally, organize your tool shed so that heavy supplies are stored at waist level. Invest in some back-friendly tools like a kneeling bench with handles, shears, shovels and weeders with long handles to minimize bending, an angled rake, and a swan-necked watering can.
If you keep this advice in mind, there's no reason for back pain to keep you out of your garden.