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Keep Gardening Injuries from Blooming

gardening

By Abbey Fecher, DPT

Spring is well underway and yard work and gardening has probably been on your weekend to-do lists. It’s always exciting to see the colorful flowers and enjoy the fresh veggies. The less exciting part of gardening though are the dreaded aches and pains that come along with the task. Did you know that there are plenty of things you can do to ensure gardening is pain- and injury-free? Gardening can be fun rather than a chore that leaves you spending the rest of the day on the couch with a heating pad.

You are prone to injury when you garden because it requires tasks such as lifting, pulling, pushing, and stooping. We are are not conditioned to perform these actions for extended periods of time. Your neck, back, shoulders and knees are the most prone to injury with gardening. Sustained poor postures like stooping, bending forward and kneeling, lifting heavy objects and repetitive movements put increased stress on your joints and can cause inflammation and pain.

Common Gardening Injuries:

  1. Muscle strains: A muscle strain is an over stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon. Lower back, neck, and shoulder strains are common with gardening due to lifting, prolonged postures, and overhead trimming or pruning. 
  2. Muscle sprains: An over stretching or tearing of a ligament.  Sprains are most common in the ankle, but they can happen in any joint of the body. You can sprain your ankle or knee when you garden if you trip or fall or even step on uneven ground. 

The good news is there are many steps you can take to avoid these pesky injuries.

  1. Perform a proper warm-up. You wouldn’t go for a 5-mile run or play a game of soccer without warming up, so why would you garden without warming up? Spend 10 minutes doing a warm-up including brisk walking for 3-5 minutes and stretches that target your neck, lower back and shoulders. Try these stretches:
  • Double to chest stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times.

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  • Hip rotator stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times. Switch sides.

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  • Pectoral/chest stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times.

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  • Cross-body shoulder stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times. Switch sides.

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  • Shoulder rolls – Perform 15 in each direction.

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  • Ear to shoulder stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times. Switch sides.

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  • Hamstring Stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times. Switch sides.

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  • Quad Stretch – Hold for 20 seconds three times. Switch sides.

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With a proper warm-up, you will increase the blood flow to your muscles, improve flexibility, and decrease the risk of straining your muscles.

      2. Be aware of proper positions and postures while you are gardening. It is important to change positions regularly while gardening to avoid unnecessary stress/strain on the body and to avoid muscles from getting tight and sore. You should alternate between sitting and standing positions every 30 minutes and limit any overhead chores to 5 minutes or less at a time. Maintaining your spine in neutral alignment is also very important to avoid excess stress on the muscles and ligaments of the neck and back.

Neutral alignment means that your spine stays in a straight line and you are not hunched over or looking down or up for an extended period of time. Planting or weeding in a half-kneeling position or sitting on a gardening stool are the best positions for spinal alignment. To decrease stress on your shoulders and back, you should avoid reaching out in front of you. Keep your work close to your body or use long-handled tools to aid in your activity to avoid over-stretching. If you are moving heavy objects such as bags of topsoil or rocks, consider using a wheelbarrow or a sled that you can pull or push them in to decrease stress on your joints. Lifting tasks should always be performed with the load close to your body and keeping a straight spine. Get someone to help you move heavy objects.

       3. Consider purchasing high quality gardening tools that fit your body and are comfortable. There are many ergonomic tools on the market which are designed to help you keep proper body alignment. Go to your local hardware store and try them out because there is no “one size fits all tool.”

       4. The last step is to know when to stop! It is never beneficial to push through pain when you are gardening. You should never garden for more than an hour at a time without a significant rest break. Muscles typically fatigue after a half hour of repetitive work, therefore you are at an increased risk of injury performing tasks with tired muscles. If you experience sharp pain or start to feel achy and sore, stop and rest. Ice is very helpful to reduce inflammation and sore/stiff joints. There is no rule that you have to complete a task in one day. Spread out manual labor over several weekends to avoid over stressing your body.

Overall, you need to be smart when you are gardening. It is important to listen to your body and ask for help when needed. If you follow these simple tips you can start to enjoy gardening and remain pain free!

CLICK HERE if you are experiencing aches or pain after a weekend of yard work or you haven’t been able to do any gardening because of pain. We can schedule your FREE ASSESSMENT with one of our expert physical therapists so you can get back to these springtime activities pain-free!