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Managing Back Pain in The Garden

Spending time in the garden can be relaxing, therapeutic, and a great form of light-intensity exercise. But don’t let the “light” in light intensity fool you. Despite its slow pace, gardening is strenuous, and the amount of bending, reaching, and crouching it requires can cause back injuries. Elderly people and people with preexisting back conditions are most at risk of developing back pain when weeding, pruning, and planting; but even young and healthy gardeners can experience soreness and inflammation following a long day of working outdoors. It is important that all gardeners take the necessary steps to protect their backs from injury while they ready their plots for spring. The key to safe gardening practices is understanding what gardening tasks employ what muscles, and paying close attention to detail—a small change in posture or a simple pre-gardening stretch can make a huge world of difference. Here are some tips of managing the potential for back pain in the garden:

Back Pain in the Garden

Photo by Hans Splinter

Pre and Post Gardening Stretches

Remember in grade school gym class when stretching was a mandatory exercise, both before and after a workout? It may have seemed excessive at the time, but there’s a good reason why gym teachers are huge proponents of stretching: pre and post workout stretches significantly reduce the chance of exercise-related injury by “warming up” the muscles for physical activity.

The same holds true when it comes to gardening. Light stretches before and after a gardening session can prep your muscles for action and then relax them after the work is done. When stretching, move slowly and stop if you experience any significant pain. Stretching should feel comfortable and offer relief from tension and pressure. Try these productive back stretches out.

Practice Proper Bending and Stretching Techniques

Many back injuries are due to improper lifting, bending, and stretching techniques. There are a few general principles to keep in mind when working in the garden:

  • Keep your spine straight when crouched on the ground or standing.
  • Lift and bend with your knees instead of your back. When picking something up, keep the object close to your body and try to maintain a straight spine.
  • Move your position frequently and take breaks when needed. Consider pausing your work every half hour or so for a short break and quick stretch.

Set Realistic Goals

Most gardeners don’t get to spend all their time gardening—they also have families to take care of, jobs to work, and bills to pay! Constant busyness makes people less mindful of how they’re treating their bodies, and a long to-do list puts pressure on gardeners to finish projects quickly. Avoid getting swallowed by the buzz of deadlines and let your gardening project unfold naturally. If you can’t work an eight hour day in the garden without pulling your back, don’t do it. If you need a half hour break in the middle of weeding or mulching, take one. You’re much less susceptible to injury if you give yourself more time to work and work at a leisurely, comfortable pace.

Use the Right Tools

Gardeners have always been inventing tools to make the task at hand easier and less personally dangerous. Thankfully, there are now thousands of gardening gadgets designed specifically to ease the burden gardening places on human bodies. It is, of course, a good idea to use them every chance you get. Push heavy loads around in wheelbarrows or carts, invest in a gardening stool or raised plant bed, and take advantage of specialty cushions made to comfort the knees and reduce back pressure during long crouching sessions.

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