Gardening is hard work. Here’s how to avoid getting hurt doing it, and what you can do if you are achy.
A knee crick here and an elbow pop there. Gardening enthusiasts are sure to recognize the familiar sounds. While a little back and neck pain might seem par for the course when you’re building a beautiful garden, they don’t have to be. Avoid these common aches with a few simple moves.
1. Adopt a daily stretching routine. The right exercises can help prevent back pain flare-ups, especially when you complete them on a daily basis. Try this exercise from the Mayo Clinic: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, then pull one knee to your chest and hold the stretched position for 5 to 10 seconds. Alternate sides and repeat 5 to 10 times each. According to Harvard Health Publications, this is a good back exercise to start with, as long as any existing back pain flare-ups have subsided and your doctor has cleared you to start an exercise routine. Do it before you head outside.
2. Limit your time. The longer you spend on your knees weeding the garden, the more likely you are to feel knee pain. Be sure to set attainable goals for your outdoor work (spend only a couple hours outside one morning rather than clocking in from sun-up to sun-down), and take plenty of breaks while you’re at it.
3. Rotate tasks. Switching things up can be a huge help when it comes to avoiding pain. “Make sure you are changing positions every ten to twenty minutes,” says Ann Katchke, a senior physical therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan of Detroit Medical Center. “Staying in one position for too long is hard on your body. If you’ve been in a forward bending position, change to standing up straight. And rotate between jobs, hand use, or projects to reduce the strain on certain joints.”
4. Invest in helpful tools. Not only will the right tools help you accomplish your goals more quickly, but they can also help you avoid unwanted pain. For example, kneepads or stools can prevent harmful pressure to your joints, and you can skip any excessive bending when you use tools with long handles. Install a hose instead of using a watering can, and investing in a four-wheeled garden cart that supports its own weight can also be helpful. What you wear matters, too. “Wear seamless, snug-fitting gloves to limit strain on hands and improve your grip,” Katchke says. “And keep your feet happy in shoes with good arch support or use hiking type boots to support your ankles on uneven terrain."
5. Stop aches and pains before they become big problems. End your work as soon as you feel an ache coming on, and take a pain reliever likewhile you take a break.
6. Get your technique right. Because of the need to look down and bend over regularly, gardening is tough on the neck and back. “We want to put as little stress on those areas as we can when gardening,” says Julia Iafrate, assistant professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. To keep the pressure off your spine, follow these rules: “Keep objects nearby so you don’t have to reach out far in front of you, especially if something is heavy. Bend at the knees rather than bending from the back. And take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch as well,” she says.