Summer. It is a season of swimming pool splashes and backyard barbecues. It is often the highlight of the year when long lazy days give way to sultry, star-splashed evenings. Summer is when we finally have time to spend in the yard and it is a great time to garden.
While spring is known as one of the best times for planting new plants and clearing up weeds, the warm climate of summer allows flowers and plants to reach their full potential. And who doesn’t love showing off their beautiful flower beds bursting with color to friends and family who come to visit. Numerous studies have looked at the health benefits associated with gardening such as:
Helps fight disease
Helps addiction recovery
Fosters human connections
Heals and empowers
Gardening can be highly beneficial but it also comes with a few things to look out for, besides heatstroke and creepy critters. One of the most common complaints associated with gardening is lower back pain. According to a UK Gallup poll, 42% of adults have complained of back pain and nearly half of those cases have been caused by gardening.
Why does my back hurt after gardening?
Gardening tends to involve a lot of repetitive movements like bending, leaning, digging, raking, and weed pulling. All of these movements are performed over and over again, often using muscles that we have ignored all week. Suddenly we expect a lot from our muscles and we haven’t given them a proper warm up. On top of that, we often bend our bodies in ways that aren’t good for our muscles. We stoop. We twist. We lean. We bend. When we don’t perform these movements properly, or with support, we can put strain on our muscles and speed up the wear and tear on our spines, a common cause of chronic lower back pain.
How Can I Avoid Back Pain When I Garden?
Gardening is a wonderfully peaceful and therapeutic activity and it is great for our environment so we found some ways that you can keep doing what you love while still taking care of your lower back. Here are some top tricks and tools to help reduce low back pain when you garden and we have put them to the acronym PETALS so that you can hopefully remember them easier when you find yourself ready to get stuck into some gardening.
P - Prevention
When it comes to health, prevention is ALWAYS the best medicine! Knowing that gardening is going to involve lots of standing, kneeling, bending, twisting and squatting movements, building up strength and flexibility can make a big difference to how sore you are after a session.
If we are spending the whole week trapped behind a desk or behind a wheel and we are sitting for extended periods (as so many Americans are) our core and gluteal muscles can become weak and our ligaments can become stiff and inflexible. Long periods of sitting can actually shorten our hip flexor muscles which in turn can lead to potential problems with our hip joints and can increase our risk of low back pain.
Research has shown that exercise and core strengthening movements can help build up the muscles that support your spine. Activities such as swimming and yoga focus on stretching and strengthening movements that increase your flexibility and build stronger muscles which, in turn, can be excellent for gardening. Even activities as simple as walking can get your heart pumping and warm up your muscles.
So next time you decide you want to do some yard work, it might be a good idea to take the dog for a quick walk first and then spend a few minutes stretching to warm up your muscles and help prevent injuries.
E - Ease Your Burden With Special Tools
Nowadays there is a tool or a gadget for pretty much anything you can think of, and this applies to gardening, too! Gardening tools and accessories can take some of the repetition out of tasks and make your life so much easier. Some of our favorite gardening tools are:
Cushions/Stools for kneeling/ sitting while you weed. They can take a lot of pressure off your knees and joints or help reduce the amount of bending over you need to do.
Electronic tools like leaf blowers and tilling tools. Using a leaf blower to gather all of your leaves in a pile and then rake can significantly reduce the time you spend bending over raking leaves. Tilling tools are a great way to weed a substantially-sized flower bed, rather than weeding individually. They often have telescopic handles so that you don’t have to bend over at all while you are tilling. When the bed is done, simply scoop all of your weeds into a bag and you are finished!
Wheelbarrows and carts. Improper lifting and carrying of heavy objects is one of the quickest ways to injure your back. Using a wheelbarrow to move heavy objects can mean the difference between a stress-free gardening session or a month of constant pain.
Raised Flower Beds. These come in many different varieties and can make your life so much easier! No more kneeling or bending over - simply garden at the height that works for you.
Ergonomic tools. Safety in the workplace has come a long way and with that gardening tools have been modernized and made to be more ergonomic. Curved-handled tools and tools with larger grips are great for those with arthritis who might need a little help.
When you are bending and lifting there is nothing more important to your lower back than having the best technique possible. When we bend and lift in the right ways it can significantly minimize the impact that gardening can have on our bodies. Some top techniques for lifting and bending are:
Maintain the natural curve of your spine - don’t twist or bend in ways that don’t fit.
When lifting things, hold the item as close to your body as possible.
Make sure you bend your knees when you pick something up rather than bending from the waist.
Make sure that you keep your movements smooth and that you avoid any sudden reaching or twisting movements.
A- Ask For Help
While gardening can be a great time to get a little peace and quiet out in nature, it can also be a great way to connect and bond with friends and family. Shared tasks and goals can be very meaningful. When we garden with others it can give you the opportunity to bond with them as well as splitting up some of the work. Asking for help when lifting something heavy or tackling a major project can be the best thing for your back, too!
L- Little Bit At A Time
Remember to pace yourself - it isn’t a race. When you are doing repetitive tasks like weeding or raking, you put a lot of stress on your lower back, neck, and shoulders. To prevent your muscles from being overworked it is a good idea to take frequent breaks, giving your muscles time to relax in between.
Don’t break for too long, however, as your muscles can start to cool after their initial warm up. Instead, take a quick walk inside your house and get a drink or a snack, and then stroll through your garden and admire your work before starting your next session. The weeds aren’t going anywhere - we promise!
S - Soak
This might be one of our favorite parts of gardening. Just as it is important to warm up your muscles before digging in, having a proper cool-down period can be just as helpful in preventing low back pain. Try taking a gentle walk and admire your neighbors beautiful gardens, or have a welcoming warm bath to rinse all of the remaining dirt off your body. Activities that relax your muscles can help prevent them from becoming stiff after an arduous day of activity.
Gardening is great for both mental and physical health and taking these steps can help you get the most out of your session. If you do experience any lower back pain after you garden you can try alternating hot or cold compresses, taking an over the counter pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or get a relaxing massage. One thing is for sure, the birds and the bees and the butterflies thank you for your hard work and dedication to making our world more beautiful - and so do we!