With warmer weather approaching, it’s time to get out of the house and resume all of your fresh-air activities. This may include cleaning up your yard and garden. Gardening is a great way to stay active and healthy through the spring and summer months while enjoying the weather and the fruits of your labor. With any physical activity comes the risk of injury. Repetitive movements, awkward positions, and poor body mechanics are all common causes that lead to injury while gardening, as well as using the wrong tools and not appropriately preparing for the activity. Here are 8 tips to help prevent injuries while gardening.
Muscles and joints are less prone to injury when you are warmed up. Whether you are new to gardening or a seasoned grower, the repetitive tasks and positions involved are common causes that lead to injury. People may underestimate the physical involvement of gardening and see it as a leisurely afternoon activity. All you need to do is 10 minutes of light activity such as walking, light stretching, shoulder circles, or upper-body rotation to get your heart rate up and blood flowing,
Using the correct tools is important to protect your back and neck from injury. Tools with short handles force you to bend down in awkward positions, possibly straining muscles. Tools with longer handles allow you to stand upright as well as use your body weight and gravity to help with digging, shoveling, and raking. Tools with an easy-grip handle help prevent hand and wrist injuries. Using a garden pad or wearing kneepads will save your knees from delayed pain or soreness after kneeling. A wheelbarrow or tarp helps move anything heavy as opposed to carrying.
Especially if this is a new activity for you, pace yourself! Start by doing 20 to 30 minutes of gardening, then give your body a break and hydrate! Start adding more time as your body becomes accustomed to the various positions and movements.
Every 20 to 30 minutes, switch tasks to avoid sustained positions of bending, kneeling, or crouching. For example, alternate weeding and digging with raking or pruning before watering or planting. Alternate standing activities with kneeling activities.
This may be one of the most important tips to remember while gardening. Whether you are lifting, weeding, or planting, first and foremost, use your abdominal muscles! We refer to this as “bracing,” and it protects your back as you are bending, carrying, lifting, or digging. When lifting heavy objects, such as soil or mulch, start with keeping your back as upright as possible and bend with your hips and knees. Avoid keeping your legs straight while bending over when picking something off the ground. Bend from your hips, not your waist. When lifting heavy objects from the ground, use your legs and keep the weight close to your body.
Whenever possible, get down to the level of your work. If you’re working down on the ground, find a kneeling position that works for your knees and back—you can always use a pad or gardening bench to sit on. Planting doesn’t necessarily need to be on the ground. Utilize a table or bench where you can either sit or stand while planting pots and baskets.
Make sure your gardening equipment is in good working condition. Ever hear the phrase “work smarter, not harder”? A dull shovel or shears will require significantly more energy and exertion than tools that are sharpened and smooth. Good grips and handles, as well as good gardening gloves, can help prevent injuries to your hands and wrists.
Perform gardening when you feel your best, or when your muscles have warmed up a bit. Gardening in the morning when the sun is not as hot will help preserve energy and prevent fatigue. Gardening later in the afternoon gives you time to move around and allows for your body to be more limber.
Talk to a Physical Therapist or Physical Therapist Assistant if you have questions regarding injury prevention while enjoying gardening. We are here to assist you!