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Gardening Tips for Back Health & Safety

Reprinted with permission from Jen ErbstErbst OrthoSport Physical Therapy
3900 Barrett Dr, Suite 102, Raleigh, NC 27609 Tel: 919-612-3842

Injury is commonly caused by faulty movement patterns performed hundreds of times during daily activity. Adverse stress to the low back muscles, ligaments and disc can be produced by prolonged positioning with the back in flexed postures or with repetitive movements of the back especially with combined rotation and flexion.

If at any time during your activity you notice your back pain progressing to aching, tingling or numbness STOP immediately. This may be a sign of too much pressure on the discs of the low back.

Ways that may help to decrease the risk of back injury with daily activity may include:

  • Warming up prior to gardening and yard work: take a short walk for 5 minutes to get blood circulating. Perform range of motion exercises which may include: Neck rotation and ear to shoulder; shoulder shrugs; shoulder backward rolls; wrist rotation; overhead reaching; lie on your back and bring one knee to your chest, rotate trunk side to side, perform standing back extension.
  • Use time as a guide to stop activity, not the task at hand: Plan to garden for 30 minute intervals at a time. Stand up every 30 min and perform back extension exercise 3-5 reps, to get your spine going in the opposite direction. Do this by placing your hands on your hips and lean backward in a comfortable range. Do not push in to pain, and stop if you feel any tingling or numbness in back or leg.
  • What is neutral spine position? Neutral spine is the low back position between arched and rounded. Maintain neutral spine positions and engage your abdominal muscles to brace the back. These muscles act as a corset to lumbar spine for back protection.
  • Lifting Mechanics: Maximize neutral spine positions. Avoid lifting heavy awkward objects. Split loads in to smaller sizes. Use knees to bend rather than your back. Keep object/weight you are lifting close to your body. Avoid bending and twisting at the same time. Avoid over reaching past an arms length away from your body especially while holding weight.
  • Low surface suggestions: Hinge at hips and squat to get to a lower level. 1/2 kneel position(down on one knee) to reach lower objects. Kneel on a knee pad. Sit on a stool. Get on hands and knees, support body with one hand on ground as you utilize tool with other hand.
  • Break up tasks: Change position of your body during your 30 minutes of gardening by doing some low level tasks, standing tasks, kneeling tasks. Take frequent breaks and keep hydrated. Garden in the morning before it gets hot.
  • Tools: Utilize 2 wheeled carts as they are more steady than a wheel barrow. Consider long handle tools so that you can do the task standing rather than bent over. Wear a tool belt/vest with pockets to hold frequently used tools to minimize bending over to the ground. Use kneeling devices that double as stools which have nice hand support to return to standing. Turn over a 5 gallon bucket to sit on for tasks. Consider an elevated garden.