The lovely warm weather has begun and what a great time to be outdoors!
While the heart begins to warm at the thought of this summery weather and gardening, there is something else that needs to be warmed up too.. Your spine! Gardening is a very physical activity involving prolonged sitting, standing, digging, lifting and stooping over in often awkward positions and although it may be relaxing, it does need to be taken seriously.
As chiropractors, many of our patients have unfortunately already fallen victim to their gardens and their backs may have suffered as a result. Luckily, these ailments are almost always quickly resolved with care, however the following tips will help to minimise the chance that your back is hurt this spring time.
So how can we garden whilst sparing our spines?
Avoid Prolonged Bending
- - Avoid bending over for long periods of time. This often makes our ligaments become stretched and painful. If we have a choice, it is better to kneel instead of stooping. This is ideal for potting and planting. We are built to be hunter gatherers, not statues!
- - If you suffer from osteoarthritis or knee dysfunction it might be a good idea to buy kneeling pads or bring an old pillow when gardening. This will save you a great deal of discomfort later!
Care while Raking/Digging
- When performing actions such as raking leaves and digging be sure to not perform back unfriendly movements. To rotate and lift a weight while bending is one of the worst movements we can do to our backs. This is one movement that we are not designed to do. Try your best to keep the back straight, hips apart and alternate the leading foot whilst raking or digging.
- - When raking, imagine driving the rake towards your belly button.
- - When digging, decrease the size of the loads you move with each spade movement depending on the density of the material being dug into. E.g smaller spade full when dealing with wet sand rather than dry sand.
- Don’t try to lift everything at once! When buying items such as cement or compost buy smaller bags if possible or ensure you have a trolley to move them.
- - When moving loads of soil or other materials in a wheelbarrow, it is better to break up one large load into 2 or 3 smaller loads than doing 1 and getting there with a sore back. Ask for help when moving anything such as rocks over 20 lbs or above comfort level. Loads should be held close to the body. You should not lift at an arm’s length or stretch out whilst lifting.
Ease into it
- Ease into it slowly! This winter has been one of the longest rainiest winters on record and we all have likely been de-conditioned! Don’t start off with a full day in the garden. Ease into it little and often. Start the first day 15-20 minutes and increase the amount of time that you spend in the garden progressively over a period of weeks assuming no pain or problems.
Take Regular Breaks
- Take regular breaks and alternate the activity you are doing. Every 20-30 minutes take a small break and walk around for couple of minutes. A good excuse to keep hydrated and have a drink.
- Back pain bothering you? If you’re a current patient and your back is getting to you more than normal even after icing after activity, following our advice and warming up, it might be worthwhile to organise an appointment sooner rather than later. With the added physical stress of prolonged postures with gardening there is likely more stress on your body than it is accustomed to. It makes sense to be checked out early before niggles may worsen and issues become chronic or long term.
Warm Up and Maintain a Strong Spine
- Be sure to stretch out the body and warm up before strenuous bending, digging or lifting to loosen the muscles. A good idea is to take a 10-15 minute walk. This will ensure the joints and muscles are warmed and primed for gardening.
- If you are interested in learning more about how to keep your back strong, minimise physical stress and topics such as how to lift or how to perform a spine friendly warm-up routine then be sure to ask about attending our next physical stress workshop. These workshops are free to current patients and are held regularly.
- If you have any questions, then don’t hesitate get in touch. Enjoy the fruits of spring!
Nash Anderson (Doctor of Chiropractic)