How to Avoid Pain and Injury when Gardening

Yeah, spring is here…and along with it, gardening!

Gardening is great for so many reasons. The beautiful flowers, the yummy vegetables, the reconnecting with the dirt and all the slimy creatures that live in it.

All good. But what isn’t so good is the inevitable aches and pains, and sometimes worse, that accompanies the onset of gardening season, especially following the typical Canadian winter hibernation.

Here are some tips to save your back so you can enjoy your garden all summer long.

Pace Yourself.

I know, common sense, which unfortunately isn’t so common anymore. If you’ve been a bit of a couch potato all winter, don’t plan on getting the whole garden done in a day or two. Take your time! Plants take week, even months to grow, pace yourself and enjoy the process. Besides, a couple weeds here or there won’t kill you or your garden.

Avoid Bending Forward at your waist for hours on end.
The lumbar spine, your low back, is most vulnerable to sustained forward bending at the waist. This reverses the normal lumbar curve, putting pressure on the front portion of the disc. Combined with any sort of twisting, this can be disastrous for your low back. Discs can bulge, and herniate, with enough pressure on them. Not fun!

Use a Cushion or Stool
If you’re weeding, or planting, get down on your knees if at all possible, and put a cushion under them. Or use a low stool to sit on. This way you’ll be flexing at the knees and hips, and much less at the low back, sparing the vulnerable discs in your low back.

Straighten Up
On a periodic basis, straighten up. Even while using a cushion on your knees or sitting on a stool, you can’t avoid 100% bending at the waist. So every 10 or 15 minutes, stand up, and straighten up, and bring some healthy movement back into your spine.

No, beer doesn’t count, good old-fashioned water please. Dehydrated discs in your spine are much more likely to be damaged over time, so especially when you’re working in the hot sun, take lots of breaks to stay hydrated.

Don’t Stop and Flop
This last one may be the MOST important. Counter intuitively, it actually happens once you’re already done gardening. This is normally the time everyone’s tired, grabs a drink, and settles down to relax into your soft couch or lazy boy. Danger! Bad idea!

This is when your spine is the most vulnerable to injury. After having already spent hours flexed forward over the garden, you and your exhausted muscles are too tired to support you.

You slouch into that forward, slumped posture, putting stress onto already stressed discs, and gradually bit by bit they start to BULGE, all while you sit there unaware.

Then you go to get up, and boom, the worst pain you’ve ever had, like a hot poker has been stuck in your back. And you’re down, stuck on the couch, and can barely move.

Ever had this happen, or heard of this happening? It can be horrible!

You managed to avoid any major injuries while gardening, but that final 15 minutes slumped on the couch was the straw that broke the camel’s back, slowly pushing on that disc, and finally bulging it, so that now you can barely move.

Please don’t do this.

Instead, once you’re done gardening, stay upright for a bit, walk around, do some gentle back extensions, hydrate, and cool down slowly. Try to stay upright for at least 10 or 15 minutes afterwards, avoiding any heavy lifting or forward bending, including plopping down on your comfy couch.

If you have to sit, find a supportive chair, preferably one with good low back support. If you must, lie down, but avoid any sustained forward bending of your low back.

DO…Get Your Spine Checked and Adjusted
Having your spine checked and adjusted throughout gardening season will allow it to be structurally more balanced, more mobile, and allow if to absorb the stresses of gardening in a much healthier way. A distorted or stuck spine can’t do this, making an injury much more likely.

Following these recommendations can save you and your back, and help to keep you gardening in comfort, all season.

Happy weeding! Dr. Byron Mackay

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