Taking care in your BACK Garden

As we move into summer many of us will take to the garden and begin our preparations for this year’s crop. But before you grab your spade spare a thought for your back!

The first few weeks of the growing season shows the highest prevalence of back injuries among recreational gardeners. Back injuries related to gardening can affect anyone but are much more common in those who do not usually participate in physical activity, fail to take care in the garden or have a previous back injury.

So the big question is what can you do to protect yourself from injury?  

  • Taking care of your back begins before you start hands on work in the garden. Do some warm up exercises to get your muscles ready for the task ahead. Holding both your hands above your head repetitively stretching up to the sky one hand at a time simulating a ladder climb. This will stretch the muscles around your core that are primarily used whilst digging. Rolling the shoulders forward and backwards and large circular movements of the arms will prepare the upper body.
  • Consider your tools and work spaces. Try to use lightweight, long handled spades to prevent hunching. Forks and hoes with a push pull action will reduce strain on your back. There are even specially designed tools with spring and lever action which cut out a lot of the harder digging. 
  • Work bench set-up for potting and transplanting is crucial.  Make sure that work benches in the greenhouse or shed are built to the correct height. The optimum height for a bench is usually 2-4 inches below the height of your elbows so that bending is reduced. Avoid sitting on a low stool as this forces you to stretch and overreach. Instead, consider a higher stool or a thick firm foam cushion placed on top of your lower stool.
  • We all know how the hours can run away with you when you are working hard in the garden! However remember that regular breaks are a must for your body plus they give you the time to sit back and enjoy your hard work or plan where your next award winning rose bed will be. 
  • Back pain sufferers need to take extra care when gardening. Great care must be taken when moving pots or tubs of soil, always seek help if you know it is a heavy task. If you are planting directly into the ground, plant from a kneeling position. The use of a ‘kneeler seat’ with handles will provide padding for your knees and that much needed support when returning to a standing position. 
  • If you already have a back problem, consider planting thick ground covers or use mulches to suppress the weeds. Raised beds are an excellent idea for those with chronic back problems. The recommended width for a raised bed is a maximum of 4ft and approximate height of 2-3ft. By using these methods you can eliminate the need to get down and weed. 
  • Digging is probably the heaviest task in the garden. Over enthusiastic digging by out of condition gardeners accounts for a high proportion of those with back pain. Keeping your back straight and dividing your digging areas into sensible chunks will prevent overdoing it in the first few days. By keeping your back straight and contracting your stomach muscles you will form a muscular support around the spine reducing the strain on the ligaments and joints of the low back. Remember if your back ‘goes out’ on day one you could be spending valuable sunny days recovering rather than enjoying your garden.
  • Finally we come to the lawn. Most of us love to look at it but few enjoy cutting it. Beware when using hover mowers, never attempt to move them sideways by swinging from the waist with the mower at arms length.  Working in this way puts excessive strain on the low back and may result in otherwise avoidable pain. Mow a little at a time in straight lines keeping as upright as possible.

We hope this information provides you with some of the tools you need to prevent back problems in the garden this year and in years to come.  If you experience pain whilst in the garden, speak to your Chiropractor or call to book an appointment today!  See our contacts page to find your nearest clinic.