It’s that wonderful time of year again! The snow shovel has been put away until next winter and now we can look for the rake and lawn mower. We all look forward to getting out in the garden for the first time. Whether you are just mowing the lawn or planting some flowers, it’s great to be in the fresh air and feeling the sun! It’s time to start raking, digging, kneeling, lifting and planting. Although these activities are usually looked upon more fondly than their winter counterparts, they can be just as dangerous. That is, gardening can lead to pain and suffering! More specifically, improper gardening techniques can lead to pain in the neck, back, shoulder or knee joints. In a recent poll, 88 percent of Ontario chiropractors reported that the most common reasons for patients presenting with neck and back pain during the warm weather season was from gardening.
It can be hypothesized that the reason for this staggering statistic is that so many people spend time in the garden. This can range from simply mowing the lawn once a week to putting in a beautiful rock garden. Either way, the yard work can be strenuous, and therefore whether a novice or a pro, injuries can and do often result! It is important to note here as well that not all gardeners are created equally. For those of us who were less active over the winter, please take more heed as you head into the yard. Remember, gardening is strenuous work. Following are some tips to help keep you happy and healthy for a long and pleasurable gardening season.
For starters, warm up your muscles and joints before beginning your gardening activities. Start with a ten-minute walk around your neighborhood. Then do some stretches for your back, legs, neck and arms. Next, it is always important to use good lifting techniques when gardening. These include ensuring you can lift the load yourself, otherwise get someone to help you. Second, keep the load close to your body, that way your back can remain straight. Recently, a patient of mine presented with excruciating back pain, because she reached over her groceries for a 50-pound bag of lime in the back seat of her car. This injury could have been avoided if she simply lifted the bag from the other side of the car, thus avoiding the reaching and enabling her to keep her back straight! It is often simple activities like this one that cause strain on the back. The good thing is they can be avoided if you stop and think before you lift!
Lifting properly is just one move you can practice to enable you to “plant and rake without the ache.” This catchy slogan was coined by the Ontario Chiropractic Association to help educate the general public on safe gardening techniques. Other useful moves include raking right. Standing with one leg forward and one leg back can establish this when you rake, thus bending your knees and keeping your back straight. Raking is repetitive and therefore can be damaging to your muscles and joints. So, remember the right technique, switch legs and hands from time to time and take frequent breaks when you feel tired.
The right tools can also aid in making your gardening experience a pleasant one. Today, there are lightweight and long handle tools to help decrease the strain on your body. Always ensure that your tools are a comfortable weight and size for you. Footwear is also important when working in the yard. Refrain from wearing sandals or flip-flops. Comfortable, thick soled, supportive shoes should be worn as they offer more support and stability. When watering plants and trees, choose a hose over a heavy and awkward watering can. Last but not least, use a cart or wheel barrel when possible to carry heavy loads. Less lifting is required, when such tools are taken advantage of.
Hopefully, now you know how to warm up before heading into the garden. You can also take advantage of certain tools and moves, to make your gardening endeavors more enjoyable. Keep all this in mind and also remember, the yard work can be spread over many days; your back will thank you! Also remember that 80% of Canadians will suffer from back pain in their lifetime. Gardening is one such activity that leads to back pain. If required, a chiropractor can help alleviate back, muscle and joint pain, so that you can keep gardening!!
Dr. Krista Prowse Welch, Halifax Chiropractor
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