Healthy gardening

Dr. Vic Weatherall

According to Dr. Peter Skew of the charity Back Care, “Gardening is one of the best forms of exercise any of us can take, it is good for flexibility, strength, and stamina.” However, you need to prepare properly to prevent injuries. Digging, lifting, raking, shifting, and planting can all cause significant strain to the muscles and the back.

A Gallup poll of more than 2,000 British adults found that nearly 42% had suffered from back pain. Of these, nearly half (47%) said their problems were caused by gardening. Among the 35-plus age group, the proportion was even higher at 56%. Gardening can cause muscle strains, ligament sprains, and back muscle spasms.

“Back injuries are frequently preventable” says Dr. Thomas Simmer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. He adds, “Too often gardeners jump right into yard work in the spring without taking precautions.”

Dr. Stan Gorchynski, former President of the Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA), said that “Eight out of every ten Canadians can expect to suffer from back pain at some time during their lives. During the spring gardening season, however, we generally see an increase in the number of visits to chiropractors due to muscle strains, sore joints, and back pain.” He added, “The warmer weather really inspires people to get out in the yard, but for many people a winter of inactivity makes them prone to back and muscle injuries.”

To have a happy and healthy gardening season, follow the healthy gardening “do’s and don’ts” listed below.

For chronic back pain sufferers, raised garden beds can be very helpful. A raised bed height of 2-3 feet will allow you to sit while gardening. Also consider using ground cover plants to reduce the need for continuous weeding.

Contact Dr. Weatherall if you have any questions or to see if he can help you with a problem.

Healthy gardening dos and don’ts

Do:

  • Choose lightweight, long-handled garden tools to help avoid bending over too often.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Wear sun block and sun protection garments.
  • Warm-up before gardening and cool-down afterward—take a short 10 to 15 minute walk.
  • Perform some simple lower-back stretches.
  • Switch hands frequently while raking or hoeing.
  • Dig and lift a little at a time.
  • Keep your back straight while lifting.
  • Use mechanical devices when moving heavy containers.
  • Use a cushion if you are going to be on your knees for a long time.
  • Change positions every 10 to 20 minutes—take a break and walk around for a minute or two.

Don’t:

  • Strain, twist, or reach too far in front.
  • Take large shovelfuls of soil.
  • Hesitate to use a small spade.
  • Dig continuously.
  • Overload the wheelbarrow.
  • Stay in the same position too long.
  • Perform the same activity too long.
  • Stoop or work too far in front of you.
  • Stretch or squat with a bent back.

References

  • “Gardening in the Back Yard without Back Pain” from PRNewswire April 3 (no year).
  • Gardening bad for backs” from BBC News Online, September 17, 2000.
  • “Gardening doesn’t need to mean back pain” from 50More (www.50more.com/50mnewsweb/editorials/27apr-1may200.htm).
  • “Safe Gardening: Avoiding Injury in the Garden” from the London Physio Centre.