As the weather warms up, and rain is more consistent, more attention needs to be paid to the garden. Gardening is a great activity, but it can play havoc with the body at times. This is a recap of a series I wrote on gardening about a year ago.
Gardening commonly involves a lot of repeated bending forward and sustained periods in a forward bent position, often tugging at tenacious weeds. Bending forward is not generally a problem unless it is repeated and sustained when it can put undue pressure on the disc spaces in the lower back and lead to ongoing pain and discomfort.
Additionally, gardening often involves a lot of clipping and pruning using secateurs, and gripping handles such as spades. This can on occasion lead to pain in the top of the arm near the elbow. Sometimes referred to as ‘tennis elbow’ – let’s call it ‘gardener’s elbow’! – it can be painful at night and makes even holding a cup of coffee painful.
Here are five tips to help you avoid some of these issues developing when you are gardening:
1.Avoid repeated bending at your back. Try other ways of reaching the ground such as squatting or kneeling.
a. Knee pads can really help with the kneeling if your knees are prone to becoming painful. Knee pads not only protect your knee joints but also encourages you to adopt use positions when you are on the ground. For instance, kneel for a few minutes on both knees rather than bending forward in standing, or kneel on one knee with the other leg forward.
b. Squatting is a great way of preserving your lower back and also helps your knees to become much stronger. It is however important to squat properly or you can inflame knee problems. When squatting, keep back straight, bending from the hips and knees rather than your lower back. If squatting is a problem try lunging with one leg forward and the other behind, keeping your back straight.
2.Avoid sustained periods in one position especially bending forward. Try sitting on the ground or sitting on a small stool. The important thing is you are constantly changing the way you do things so as not to load up one part of the body continually. A good moto is ‘the best posture is the next posture’.
3.Try breaking up the gardening tasks into 10-minute portions alternating between upper arm tasks and then ground tasks such as weeding.
4.Wear gardening gloves and vary the width of the handles of your secateurs and other equipment you use. This helps to use slightly different muscles in different ways when you have a lot of pruning, clipping, and digging to do.
5.Improve your shoulder strength. When the muscles around the shoulders have lost strength then the muscles around the neck, elbows and wrist compensate. This leads to a greater chance of overuse of these muscles and pain.
Three exercises that can help the lower back, shoulders and legs.
Improving your back, leg and shoulder strength will help prevent the onset of lower back, neck and shoulder pain significantly. You need to be persistent and keep the exercises going regularly, but if you do you will find you can work in the garden longer and more productively.
1.Back extensions in standing – this can be done in the garden especially if you have been bending forward for a while.
- Start in standing with your legs hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.
- Lean your trunk backwards, arching in the lower back and lifting your chest up.
- Hold this position before returning to the start position.
- Repeat this 3-4 times
- Stand up straight facing a wall.
- Take a step back and place the palms of your hands on the wall at shoulder height and slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows, taking your chest towards the wall. Keep your body in a straight line and tighten your buttocks and abdominals. Try to keep your head from poking forward.
- Return to the starting position by straightening your elbows, lifting your chest away from the wall.
You can progress this with push-ups on the floor:
- Lie on your front face down with your hands on the floor shoulder width apart and your fingers facing forwards.
- Press up using your arms and shoulders, lifting your body up onto your toes, so that you have a straight line from your head to your feet. Keep your abdominals and core muscles tighten so you do not arch or sag your back. Bend your elbows, lowering your chest down towards the start, keeping your body completely straight.
- Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, your arms out in front of you and held horizontal to the floor.
- Bend your knees and hips pushing your hips back behind you and leaning your body forwards, as though you are about to sit on the chair. Make sure you are bending from the hips not the back.
- Do not allow your knees to travel in front of your toes. Keep the middle of your kneecap in line with your 2nd toe. Keep your weight on your heels, not your toes.
- At the bottom of the squat, tense your buttocks, lift and straighten back up to the start position.
Hope this helps your gardening experience!