Gardening isn’t exactly an extreme sport, but while you might not need a helmet to participate, you can take steps to avoid injury from maintaining improper posture.
Bending over seeding, weeding and watering, the hours can quickly slip by. Then there’s activities like digging, carrying buckets, pushing wheelbarrows and lifting. Done the wrong way, these activities can place strain and stress on our backs, particularly when our bodies are held in unsound positions over a sustained period of time to perform them.
It’s easy to understand how back pain can arise from our pursuits in the garden if we don’t undertake these activities in the right way. And not surprising that in general, about 80% of people experience low back pain at some stage in their lives
DIY activities around the home can result in a high rate of injury. In Australia it’s been shown that of DIY injuries presented at an Emergency department, 75% of incidents occur in a residential setting, particularly the garden
Any infrequent activity – whether you’re an avid gardener or a weekend warrior on the sports field – should be prefaced by a few minutes preparing yourself both physically and mentally.
Dowager’s Hump (increased kyphosis)
In older people, it has been found that the greater the postural issue of Dowager’s Hump (or kyphosis) the greater the odds of experiencing difficulties in activities such as bending, walking or climbing
Hunched over a garden weeding or planting can result in the condition commonly referred to as Round Shoulders, which is distinguished by the hunched over appearance it produces.
Uneven or rotated hips
Twisting to shift dirt from a wheelbarrow to a garden, or to pull out and pile up weeds can lead to issues with uneven or rotated hips.
In severe cases, long term bad posture can lead to Scoliosis, a condition that results in the spine twisting from left to right, instead of running in a straight line from top to bottom. Depending on the severity, scoliosis of the spine can have a detrimental impact on vital organs, such as your heart, liver and kidneys.
The good news is that postural issues can be corrected, and even, in some instances reversed. In the first instance, give your posture a sporting chance. By preparing before you enter the garden and having a few simple rules in mind, you can minimise your chance of experiencing some of these common gardening afflictions.
And aside from using the correct posture and tools, take frequent breaks and walk around and stretch, as staying in the same position for too long can contribute to a sore back later that night or the next morning
To Prevent Injuries While Gardening
An enjoyable activity for many, gardening can turn dangerous, as repetitive stress injuries, tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can occur without proper precaution. “Raking, weeding, digging and pruning put stress on the hands and wrists,” says Lorie Theisen, NRH Occupational Therapist and CHT. “Many gardeners spend hours performing these activities with improper form, which can lead to a variety of problems in the hands and upper extremities.”
- Since prevention is the best approach, the Certified Hand Therapists (CHTs) at NRH Regional Rehab in Pasadena, MD suggest the following warm-up exercises and injury prevention tips. (Note: These exercises should never be painful when completing them. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Should you experience pain, please consult a hand therapist or physician.) Hold each movement for 10 seconds and repeat eight times:
- 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.
- Again, fold your hands and turn your palms away, but this time extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “Poor form and bad habits during gardening can bring an early end to the gardening season,” adds Theisen. “Remember to stay hydrated and garden during the early morning or early evening hours when temperatures are lower. Following these guidelines is the best way to stay healthy and enjoy the many benefits of gardening.”
This section offers prevention and safety tips for a number of common activities that can lead to hand injury and trauma
Other Gardening Injury Prevention Tips
The American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) offers the following tips to protect hands and to prevent injuries while gardening:
- 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.
- Keep your hands and arms covered. Be especially careful if you live in an area where you may disturb a snake, spider, or rodent living in your garden. You will be better protected from poison ivy, insect bites and other common skin irritants that may inhabit a garden.
- Take a break every hour or switch to another activity. Overuse of repetitive motions, such as digging, can cause tendonitis of the elbow or lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Break up large tasks into short sessions, with a rest and stretch break between gardening sessions.
- Use a tool when digging into unfamiliar or new areas. Buried sharp objects can cause tendon lacerations or punctures. Use the correct tool for the task at hand in order to avoid accidental injury.
- Store your tools to prevent accidents. Learn how to use and store your tools correctly to prevent accidents, and keep sharp tools out of the reach of children at all times. Also make sure to put all tools away after use to prevent future injuries.
- 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.