Avoiding Back Pain When Gardening
30th April 2018
With the days getting longer and warmer…the plants are growing and people want to get on with the gardening. Great! The problem with this however is the high number of injuries that can develop in these early days of the gardening season. The most common causes of injuries – whether in sports or in activities such as gardening, is when people do too much too soon (for their bodies). This is compounded by people having poor technique, or insufficient strength or mobility – either ‘unconditioned’ or ‘de-conditioned’ bodies for the job that is being asked of it!
So how do you avoid this?
- Start slow. The human body has the amazing ability to adapt to the stresses placed upon it. However, especially as we get older, our bodies require time for this process to occur. It may be tempting to, on the first sunny Saturday to head out and spend 6 hours, weeding, mowing, digging, pruning. But if this is a level or type of activity you are not accustomed to, you could overload the bodies tissues, leading to an injury. Try to spread the tasks out over the week, while your body adjusts to the new demands that summer is putting on it.
- Take breaks. When muscles, and the nervous system becomes fatigued the body can become less efficient at controlling our movement and posture – leading to poorer movement, more compensations, and an increased risk of injury. Taking breaks during or between task, staying hydrated and adequately fed, can help maintain the function of the body, helping to you continue injury free! The frequency and duration of your breaks depends on the individual and the task, but a good rule of thumb is: if you are in one position for more than 20 minutes (weeding on the hands and knees for example), try to change for posture for a couple of minutes – stand up straight, walk about – before continuing. If you are doing more physically demanding work (shovelling, moving pots around) take a 10-15 minute break if you feel that you are losing some strength to fatigue. If you are fit and strong with might be every three hours, if you are normally inactive, this could be every 30 minutes!
- Move efficiently. The way we move can have a big impact on the stresses we put upon our body’s tissues. If you are carrying something heavy, try to keep you spine in a neutral position (as if you were standing upright), use your hips and knees (stick your bum out backwards and bend your knees) to pick something heavy up, and carry the weight close to your body. If it is too heavy, use a wheelbarrow, or get somebody to help you carry it! The same principles apply to pruning, of working at waist height. Take breaks if you are bending you back a lot, or try bending at the knees and hips.
- Strong, mobile bodies get injured less. By staying active – even outside of gardening season (or golf, football, cricket etc season) we can encourage our bodies to stay capable of the demand we ask of them. We can’t prevent all injuries, but if we are moving well, and at our own pace, the odds a significantly reduced
For those injuries that do occur, or if you have concerns about how best to prepare your body for some upcoming increase in activity, feel free to contact Central Osteopaths here
Blog compiled by Matt Penman M.Ost, Head Osteopath at Central Osteopaths