12 Apr Avoiding Pain While Gardening: 8 tips
It’s that time of year again. The weather starts to warm, the sun is out longer and people start using their green thumbs. Gardening isn’t a contact sport by any stretch but it can be a source of pain, specifically low back pain for many folks. Gardening usually involves a lot of bending, reaching and awkward positions not to mention the 10 to 50-pound bags of mulch which don’t offer much in the way of assistance. This translates to a lot of sustained flexion which places a lot of strain on the muscles, ligaments and discs of the low back. Here are a couple tips to avoid injury and get the most out of your garden.
1. Take a tip from yoga by lying on your back and pull your knees into your chest. After staying here 10-30 seconds, start to gently rock back-and-forth and side-to-side. This will massage your muscles of the low back and increase circulation.
2. Perform some back bends. Extension is the opposite of flexion and can be achieved by standing up, placing your hands on your pelvis and gently pushing the hips forward and feeling a stretch in the abdomen and back. Move in and out of this stretch without staying at end range too long.
3. Don’t stay in one position longer than 30 minutes at a time. It’s hard to do this anyway but staying in a stooped position planting seedlings for three or four rows counts as staying flexed and that’s too long.
4. Perform more back bends. Trust me, your spine with thank you for the extension.
5. Use your legs to lift! Anytime you’re bending over to pick up a planter, bags of peat moss or anything over 10 pounds, you can run the risk of pulling something or injury. Lower this risk by flattening your back and bending at the knees to achieve the height at which you want to pull. Avoid reaching for things that are away from and to the side of you. Bending and rotating to lift can be especially hard on the discs.
6. ICE!!!! If there’s any discomfort, use ice for the first 48 hours. If there’s any inflammation as a result of over-exertion, you’ll want to calm it down with ice at 20 minutes per session, multiple times per day. If you’re using an ice pack, a barrier needs to go between you and the pack to avoid damaging the skin. Ice in a zip bag can go directly on the skin. Topical gels like IcyHot or Biofreeze are not substitutes for ice.
7. No heat!! It can temporarily worsen your symptoms making it tougher to deal with your issues. And for goodness sake, NEVER sleep with a heating pad after gardening. Unless you want to stay in your bed all day because you can’t move.
8. Stretch afterward. We don’t normally think of gardening as physical activity but it’s immensely physical. There are plenty of recommendations to stretch and cool down after exercise and gardening is no exception.
If you do end up with pain, don’t wait for weeks on end. A visit to your chiropractor or physical therapist sooner rather than later can get rid of the pain quicker than if you wait for a month.