Gardening Tips: Staying Injury Free
Be Careful Lifting
Lifting and carrying heavy bags of dirt, watering cans, flat of flowers, or decorative stones can take its toll. Make sure when you go to pick an item up that you always bend at the knees, not at the waist, and that you use your arm and leg muscles to push and pull heavy objects, as opposed to using your back.
- Always keep the load close
- Always make more than one trip if more comfortable
Also keep the load close to your body. It is always a good idea to activate your core by bringing your belly button in towards your spine with any strenuous activity. If a load is too heavy, make more than one trip or have someone else help you.
To decrease chance of injury, make sure you take a break every 30 minutes or switch to another activity in the yard. Overuse of repetitive motions used in gardening, such as digging and constant gripping of tools, can cause tendonitis of the wrist and elbow. Break up large tasks into short sessions with a rest and stretch break in between sessions to reduce muscle fatigue.
If you do develop a nagging ache or injury, it’s always a good idea to come in and see us for treatment and tips before it develops into something more serious.
For long term health, consider installing raised garden beds, which allow you to garden without having to bend over. Also container gardens can be placed on tables or deck railings to make it easy to reach plants. The recommended width for a raised bed is a maximum of 4 ft. and approximate height of 2-3 ft. If purpose-built raised beds are impractical, use old sinks, water tanks, oil drums, tubs and boxes. Have the beds raised to the correct height by using bricks or paving.
Make sure that the workbenches in greenhouses are built to the correct height, usually 2 to 4 inches below the height of your elbow, so that bending is reduced. Of course you can sit down, at the right height, to work thus reducing the strain of standing in one position for too long. Do not sit on a low stool which forces you to stretch and overreach.
More General Suggestions
- Wear gloves at all times. Bacteria and fungus live in the soil and a small irritation or cut can develop into a major hand infection. Thick, leather or suede gloves may protect your hands from thorns, cuts and scrapes. There is also an arthritic Imak-made glove, which supports the joints and muscles, whilst keeping them warm. Also any glove will protect your hands from blisters.
- Use wide handled tools.Use tools with padded or thicker handles to protect the smaller joints in your hands. Working with your wrist in a more neutral or straight position will help to prevent injuries in the wrist and forearm.
- Avoid sustained/constant gripping and awkward motions. Use both hands for heavy activities like lifting a bag of potting soil and alternate hands on more repetitive tasks like scooping dirt out of the bag into a pot. Sustained grip and repetitive motions can cause pain and lead to tendonitis.
- Plan ahead. Use a basket or large handled container to carry supplies to the garden. The basket should be carried with both hands, distributing the workload equally and decreasing stress in the joints of your upper body.
- Don’t sit back on your knees. Bending your knees this far is not only a hard position for the knee joint, but it requires you to push most of your body weight up with your hands and wrists, placing increased pressure on these joints as well. Instead, use a short gardening stool or bench.
- Stretch those muscles:Heading out into the garden is just like going for a jog or visiting the gym. Before you grab all your gardening tools, practice some full-body stretches to warm up your muscles. Target your arms, legs and back, because the muscles in these areas will be put to good use while you’re planting, weeding and watering. And before you finish for the day, do some more stretching to help loosen any muscles that tightened during your gardening work.
Simple Stretches You Can Perform
- Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should feel a stretch all the way from your shoulders to your fingers. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
- Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body, but this time extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
- Place your hand just above the back of the elbow and gently push your elbow across your chest toward the opposite shoulder. This is a stretch for the upper back and shoulder. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
- Raise one arm overhead. Bend the elbow. Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and gently push the elbow back further. This is a stretch for the triceps. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat eight times.
- Extend an arm in front of you, making sure the elbow is completely straight. With your palm down, take the opposite hand and bend in the wrist downward. Then turn the palm up, and stretch the wrist backwards. This stretches the forearm and wrist muscles. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
10 Tips for Avoiding Injury Whilst Gardening
- Before each session, do gentle stretches.
- Kneel down if you can, especially for planting, weeding and collecting debris. Kneel using well-padded cushion to get as close to weeds as possible; keep your back straight when working.
- Decide how long you will work and when your breaks will be, before you start.
- Start with very short defined times of activity initially and keep the task down to two hours or less in the first few days if you are fit; if you have problems then this will need to be lower.
- Plan a graded increase in activity, using pacing technique, sticking to times you have decided.
- Make sure you stick to the times you have decided, especially if you feel really good and want to do much more; this is a trap.
- Share heavy loads with someone else and use good lifting technique. Remember to lift from a squatting position, keeping your back straight, so that your legs do the work and not your back.
- Using wheelbarrow: With one foot slightly forward, bend knees, again keeping your back straight, to pick up or set the wheelbarrow down. Draw your belly button towards your spine to tighten your core muscles whilst doing this. And make sure you keep your back erect when pushing forwards.
- Try to avoid repetitive side to side swinging movements with a mower.
- Change tasks routinely, ensuring you don’t do consecutive tasks which are physically similar. Digging could be followed by a bit of pruning or raking to give the position a rest.
If you feel a pain or strain, stop for a day and assess how you are the next day. Reduce the level of activity if you are a bit stiff and sore, but if your pain is significant then please come in and see us for advice.