There is almost nothing more enjoyable this time of year than spending a warm afternoon outside perfecting the garden. Gardening provides an excellent outlet for stress relief, and it also allows us to gain some of the much needed vitamin D we have all been lacking over the long and harsh winter. It is really common for gardening to be a source of aches and pains for many people, although many don’t realize this until it’s too late! With a little bit of planning, it is possible to avoid the aches and pains that we see pop up with gardening and yard work. Here are five tips to help you get started:
1. Prepare your work area
Before you jump right into your gardening tasks, consider where you will be working and what you might need to make the job easier. If you are planting in containers, consider placing them up on a higher surface, level with your waist to avoid crouching or reaching. Bring your equipment close by so that you can avoid awkward positions or prolonged hunching. When planting flower beds, many people stoop over in awkward positions for sustained periods of time, which in turn can lead to a sore back. Plan where you will sit and what you will be doing ahead of time.
2. Prepare your body
Believe it or not, your body needs a warm up to prepare for some of the new and sustained movements you will be doing as you garden. Make sure to warm up your sides, thighs, hamstrings, wrists, back, and arms. As you take breaks, stretch out your forearms to avoid tightness later on.
3. Practice mindful awareness of your work positions
It’s really easy to get caught up in digging and planting sections of your garden, and before long you’ve spent over an hour in a very awkward position. To avoid this, plan a good variety in tasks- consider alternating heavy and light tasks throughout the day. Listen closely to your body, and if you start to ache, consider switching what you are doing. Changing hands to reduce strain is a good option. Aches are generally a sign that the body needs to change its position.
4. Take breaks and replenish
Pace yourself when gardening to build in planned breaks. Some people do this by carrying around a timer while others pace themselves according to tasks (“2 more bunches of geraniums before I stop”). A good starting point is to consider taking a posture break every 20 minutes, the way you would at work. Plan to rehydrate during your breaks, and remember to re-apply sunscreen if you need to as well. Light stretching and active ranges of movement help to keep away potential aches and pains.
5. Be aware of how you lift heavy loads
If you must lift something heavy and awkward, such as a bag of soil or mulch, be mindful of how to lift properly to avoid injury. Keep the load close to your body, bend your knees and keep your low back neutral (avoid bending from the waist). Consider breaking heavy loads into smaller more manageable loads –your back will thank you later!
After your fun filled gardening day is over, remember to lightly stretch to avoid any lingering tightness. If you experience pain that lasts more than a couple of days, call your chiropractor for a check-up. Have fun out there, and remember to plan ahead to avoid those pesky strains!