Any dedicated gardener knows that the hard work is year-round. No matter the season, a garden requires care and attention to flourish. Fresh air and physical work are good for you, but injuries are easily come by if you’re not used to being active! Gardening is physically demanding and therefore you should prepare your body for it, especially if you have recently been indulging in long sessions on the sofa.
You’re probably familiar with stiff and sore muscles in the lower back, neck, arms and even legs when you sit down after a day in the garden. A hot bath with Epsom Salt and a massage will help to make you feel better and get ready for another lovely day out in the fresh air.
Sometimes, too much bending and lifting can take a toll. Working in a bent position for prolonged time can strain not only muscles, but can also put too much pressure on your back and joints. In this case, you will possibly experience a painful stiffness in the bottom of the spine, which can develop into breath-taking sharp pain and sciatic pain down the back of the leg.
Here are some tips for gardening without pain, including how to prepare yourself to avoid pain and injuries while gardening. We will talk about warming up and stretching, protecting your back and knees, and how to dig.
Our top tips for gardening without pain:
Warming up before sport is accepted as good practice. So, regard gardening as a fitness session of heavy lifting, deep squats and more; it will pay out to spend 5 minutes preparing your body before leaving the house. Just a couple of simple stretches and movements will help you to avoid any nasty surprises.
1) Raise your shoulders up, then down. Slowly circle your shoulders, first in one direction and then in the other.
2) Tuck the chin in and roll the head down, keep chin tucked in and look up again.
3) Gently move your ear toward your shoulder on both sides.
4) Pull the upper arm across your chest without raising the shoulder to your ear.
5) Hands behind your head, take a deep breath and stick your chest out and moving the elbows apart.
6) Hands in the small of your back, slowly lift your chest and bend backwards 3-5 times.
7) Reach up with your hands and then side bend slowly. Take a deep breath in and out and change side.
8) Stretch calves and thighs.
While gardening, stretch your back regularly, arching it back if you spend time bent over.
Repeat the stretching exercises after you finish, have a warm bath or shower and avoid sitting or slouching for long periods (watch TV with a pillow supporting the small of your back). Ideally go for a short walk instead.
If your back particularly hurts try slowly to arch it backwards. Try to stand or sit upright and gently move your pelvis, sticking the bum out and then rolling the tailbone in. Avoid sitting in low chairs and alternate rest with gentle movement and short walks.
Mind Your Back
Carrying bags of soil over the shoulder or pushing the wheelbarrow are heavy lifting activities. As such you really want to be warmed up first. Also ask yourself if it wouldn’t be better to walk twice but with half of the weight. If this is not an option, then you must protect your back by:
- Brace the spine by consciously activating your core muscles, holding in the bellybutton. Breathe out when lifting rather than holding the breath. This will reduce the risk of excessive the pressure in your chest.
- Use your legs more by bending the knees when lifting the load from the ground. Push the feet actively in the ground to activate your thigh and bum muscles.
- Consider wearing a back support.
Taking the Knee
Kneeling to Mother Earth may be taxing on the knees, especially if you are not used to it or you are not 21 anymore. Kneeling requires a good flexibility of the thigh muscle called quariceps and also of the ankles and hip joints. So, before you aim for the garden try this:
- Spend a few minutes warming up your ankles circling them, drawing circles in the air, going up/down on tip toes 10 times.
- Try a hula hoop motion and figure 8s with your hips to get started (no actual hoop required!).
- After this stand with feet hip width apart, knees pointing forward and try to do 10 squats. Move slowly with control and try to get lower at each repetition.
- If you feel ok, once in the squatted position, shift all weight on one leg, making sure the knee points forward. This exercise is a good one to repeat daily, even without gardening.
- Stretching the front of your thigh. Stand on one foot and hold something to steady yourself if needed; then, try to get hold of the free ankle (you can use the bottom of your trouser to pull the foot gentle towards your bum). When you feel a pull in the front of your thigh, squeeze your bum. You should feel an increased stretching at the top of your thigh.
- Get up regularly to ease the pressure on your knees and to avoid strains on the lower back. Try to arch back your spine at least 5 times.
The Art of Digging
Depending on the type of soil and ground, digging can be more taxing on the shoulders on the back or on the feet and legs.
- Make sure the shaft of the spade is long enough, especially if you are a tall person
- Wear shoes with a hard sole and regularly change the foot you use to push down the spade
- Try not to take a too big load
- Wear gloves (better against blisters)
- Keep your upper arms close to the body when lifting the load
- Make sure you remember to scoop in your belly before you lift
- At regular intervals bend back you spine and roll your shoulders
There are so many more exercises to prepare your body for the fun of gardening and to ease the tensions after the hard work. I tried to compile some here. In general also don’t forget to keep hydrated with plenty of water!
Gardening is a great form of keeping fit physically and mentally, but working in a bent position for prolonged time can strain not only muscles, but can also put too much pressure on your back and joints. In this case you will possibly experience a painful stiffness in the bottom of the spine, which can develop into breath-taking sharp pain and sciatic pain down the back of the leg. Or your knees swell up, or other problems may arise.
If your back muscles are in spasm or very painful and even gentle movements causes more pain, you should seek medical attention by a professional. We are here to help you. Just call us on 0191 296 0567 or book online. Don’t wait in pain, and make the most of our free tips for gardening!Published on: 7th March 2022