Spring is here and after a winter of decreased physical activity, gardening is a great way to get exercise that is low-impact and healthy. Injuries occur very often due to using the wrong tools for the job, repetitive motion, lifting, and twisting with heavy loads. We need to realize that gardening requires strength and flexibility to prevent injuries.
You might be surprised to know that repetitive injuries can be a problem for gardeners. Gardening is perfectly safe but it is important to choose the right tools for the job; tools with comfort grips keeping your hands in a neural position. This allows for less stress on your joints and uses less body energy which will help decrease hand and upper extremity injuries. Some examples are cushioned handles, easy reach pruners, and long handle spades.
Here are some ways to prevent gardening injuries:
- Make sure that you warm up and stretch prior to beginning your gardening.
- Plan frequent rests and try to complete your gardening over an extended period of time.
- Change your tasks frequently to use different muscle groups.
- Maintain good posture. Do not bend forward for extended periods of time and bend your knees or kneel to protect your back.
- Take frequent stretch breaks.
- When lifting, bend your knees and do not twist, turn your feet to protect your back.
- Distribute your body weight evenly when lifting and contract your core muscles.
- While pruning keep your hips and shoulders square to the area that you are working.
- Be careful of dehydration, drink plenty of water while working out in the sun, wear a hat, and use sun screen. This will help avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Tips for staying healthy while gardening include:
- Spread out the work over several days.·
- Try to work in the cooler times of the day.
- Stand up and stretch often.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Change positions frequently by alternating tasks.
Physical conditioning ideas for gardening include:
- For your back: strengthen your core especially your abdominal muscles. Keep your hamstrings, low back, and hip flexors flexible.
- Arms and shoulders are used to reach overhead, digging, and lifting. Strengthen both arms and improve flexibility of your biceps, triceps, forearm muscles, rotator cuff muscles, and your chest muscles.
- Knees are used to lift, bend, and squat. Keep your quadriceps and hips strong. Improve the flexibility of your quadriceps, hamstrings, and IT band.
- Warm up and cool down properly. Before you start to garden, take a brisk five minute walk.
- Avoid fatigue: do not work until you are exhausted.
- Stretch frequently throughout the day. Some stretches to consider are placing your hands on your low back and leaning backwards after bending forward for extended periods of time. Interlace your hands and reach overhead, roll your shoulders, and twist side to side.
Proper body mechanics also help to prevent injuries and muscle fatigue:
- Lift with your legs instead of your back. Your legs have more strength and power compared to your back muscles.
- Instead of bending over, kneel or use a gardening stool allowing you to work at waist height.
- Carry buckets, plants, or heavy tools close to your body.
- When digging, distribute your body weight evenly.
Gardening is a great way to get physical activity in the warmer weather. Get outside and enjoy yourself safely.
Pamela A. Ziegenfus, PT, is a physical therapist with OrthoCarolina Huntersville.