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Preventing Gardening Injuries

Gardening is a wonderful outdoor activity, enjoyed by many, but for anyone who has spent the day bent over in the garden, shoveling for several hours or taking wheelbarrow loads of mulch from the driveway to the garden, you’ve likely experienced the lower back pain that accompanies gardening. Below are several tips to avoid common gardening injuries:

  • Warm-up: While gardening isn’t a contact support, it does involve the use of motor skills involving both small (hands) and large (legs) body parts. Before you start, consider a few basic stretches for your hands, arms, back and legs to prepare your muscles
  • Avoid repetitive stress: It is easy to get “into the zone” when gardening and lose track of time. Try setting a timer so that you can rotate through various tasks (weeding, digging, raking, pruning) and avoid using the same muscle groups for prolonged periods.
  • Use proper form: When lifting, planting or pruning, try to keep the objects close to you and work directly in front of your body. Try to avoid twisting and carrying objects away from your body to put less stress on your back. If necessary use a stool or knee pads.

These are some tips for gardening specific activities:

  • Shoveling: When shoveling make sure you are using a shovel that is the correct size. Using a shovel that is too short, will result in you having to repetitively lean forward, which increases the stress placed on your lower back. Also, when lifting the mulch make sure to lift using your legs and not with your back.
  • Using a Wheelbarrow: Though many of us want to reduce the number of wheelbarrow trips we have to make but taking heavier loads, it is better to take several lighter trips. This will place less stress on your lower back and reduce the risk of injury. Similar to shoveling, it’s important to always bend at the knees and hips, not at the back. When lifting the wheelbarrow to dump, use your hip muscles to push up, which are much stronger than your back muscles.
  • Weeding: Whether weeding, potting or planting, you may find yourself down on your hands and knees for prolonged periods of time. To avoid putting strain on your back while in this position try to remain parallel to the ground as much as possible, from your head to your tailbone. When weeding use your whole body to pull the plant back, as opposed to yanking you’re your arms and hand.