How to Prevent Back Pain While Gardening
One of the positives of the COVID lockdown is that many of us have had more time and the weather has been great to get outside and do some gardening. Exercising our green fingers is a great way to get closer to nature, enjoy a little peace, and relax, but it can also cause back pain and trigger sciatica. Here at The House Clinics, Bristol, we see many patients suffering from lower back pain related to gardening, and they often feel they have to stop. But gardening doesn't have to give you back pain. With these simple steps, you can prevent it.
Avoid Back Pain by Warming Up First
To avoid back pain developing, warm up first. It's easy to think of gardening as something sedentary and relaxing, but in one session you will put your body through a wide range of movements including standing, leaning, stretching, crouching, twisting, digging, and lifting - so that's a full bodywork! You'll be using many different muscles and joints and it's important to recognize that you need to prepare your body in the same way you would if you were about to go out for a run or play tennis.
How to Warm-up to Prevent Back Pain
You'll need to do some stretching and simple exercises to target your core, back, shoulders, arms, and legs...
- Start with simple roll down and ups to loosen up the spine. Don't force it, but standing up with feet hip-distance apart, aim to roll down through each vertebra and reach your fingers to your toes. Roll back up slowly and repeat 5 times. This is a great exercise before and after gardening to loosen up and ease back pain.
- Next, stretch your waist and core muscles by reaching your hands above your head. With feet hip-distance apart, grab your right wrist with your left hand and stretch/bend over to the left side. Hold for 20 seconds. On each out-breath, stretch a little more, and on each in-breath release a little. Repeat on your right side.
- Now stretch your shoulders and upper arms. Stand up and cross your right arm over your chest, grasping it just above the elbow with your left hand. You'll feel a great stretch and should hold this for 20 seconds, taking deep breaths, before repeating on the other side.
- Squats are also a great exercise to warm up the muscles in your legs, buttocks, and hips and strengthen the legs to enable you to use them when lifting, rather than your back. We'll explain this more below. Try and do 12-15 squats. Here's a great video link and article that can help you do squats correctly: https://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/workouts/squat-form
"Any warm-up routine will help prepare your body for the strains of gardening and prevent back pain from developing, even a brisk 10-minute walk beforehand will help."
Strengthen Your Core
While a warm-up will help your body prepare for the demands of gardening, the best way to avoid injury and back pain, in the long run, is to strengthen your core (the group of muscles around your midsection) which helps protect and keep your spine stable). Core exercises should involve the major muscles in your abdomen, including your internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominals.
A strong core will especially prepare your body for the more rigorous demands of gardening such as digging, lifting, and carrying.
Pilates and Yoga are great ways to strengthen your core. At the moment classes aren't an option, but there are so many helpful DVDs, free videos to access on youtube, or you can find an app (look in the apple or android app store).
Protect Your Back By Paying Attention To How You Bend and Lift
Whether it's a bag of compost or garden waste, or moving plant pots, be mindful of how you lift and carry things... a high percentage of back pain is directly related to carrying something heavy! And while bending over to do groundwork, think about your position.
- Always lift from a crouching position with your legs bent and your back straight.
- Carry heavier items low down and pressed against your body so that there is less leverage on your back.
- Instead of crouching down or bending over which will force your spine into an unnatural position, aim to kneel down. You can use a soft gardening mat for comfort. Have one knee down on the ground and the other raised up, and switch sides regularly to alleviate any pressure. Try to maintain the natural curvature of your spine.
- Use a wheelbarrow where you can to carry loads more safely.
- If something like a watering can or bag of garden waste is heavy, only fill it up half-way and do multiple trips rather than risk straining your back.
"Bending over for extended periods while you garden puts a lot of strain on the back. It's much better to kneel."
Make Use of Specialised Tools
You can prevent back pain while gardening by using specialist tools designed to take the strain off your body.
- Wheelbarrows and wheeled garden waste carts can make loading and unloading garden debris much easier, and enable you to transport compost or plant pots more safely.
- Long-handled tools can make weeding, trimming, and even picking up garden waste much easier on your back, avoiding the need to stretch or bend over repeatedly.
- You can also get support from garden kneelers as many of them are designed with special handles to assist you when getting up and down. Some of them convert into low stools as well which eliminates the need to crouch or bend down.
Take Regular Breaks and Stretch
And finally, it's important to take regular breaks if you want to avoid back pain after gardening. It's easy to get carried away and so immersed in tasks like weeding or trimming, that you forget to take a rest. Try setting a timer on your phone or watch and aim to take a break every 30 mins or so. Have a cup of tea or simply walk around and stretch for 5 minutes.
And once you've finished for the day, take 10 minutes to stretch the muscles in your neck, shoulders, arms, back, and legs. Stretching after any strenuous physical activity is proven to help muscles recover and repair.
Check out this video below which is a great stretching routine after any physical activity, and will help you relax at any time of the day.
If you need any advice on gardening-related aches and pains, contact us here at The House Clinics, Bristol on 0117 942 0200
We will be more than happy to help!