As the warm Spring weather is settling in, most of us are finding ways to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Many people take to gardening this time of year, but this seemingly simple task can be a strain on our bodies. With all the standing, kneeling, digging and stooping that is often required of gardening, you may find that that it wakes up your cranky low back pain, sends your arthritic knees barking, or has your muscles aching for days. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to make gardening easier on your body, from changing your body position to using more ergonomic gardening tools.
Here are some tips to remember before heading into your yard for an afternoon of gardening:
Avoid bending or reaching: This is my favorite tip! So many patients that come into physical therapy for low back pain are a result of some form of bending over/lifting incident. When you need to reach over and get low to the ground, it is recommended to squat or kneel, thus bending at your knees instead of at your back. Also, position yourself close to where you are trying to work, that way you don’t have to reach far away and strain your back.
Ask for help with lifting tasks: If you need to move or lift something heavy, take the time to ask a neighbor or another household member for some assistance if they are available. People are happy to help!
Raise your garden: Elevating your garden beds by just 4-8 inches can make a big difference on the demands of your body when gardening. If you are unable to tolerate squatting or kneeling, you can even elevate your garden beds 2-3 feet or plant your flowers/vegetables in large pots.
Cushion your knees: This is good for people who don’t even have any knee issues, because kneeling for a long time can bother anyone’s knees. You can kneel onto a padded mat or wear knee pads to provide a good cushion. Some kneeling pads even have handlebars to assist you in standing up.
Use long-handed tools: Many standard garden tools have short handles, which means you need to get very close to where you are working in order to reach. Sometimes this is almost impossible depending on where the plants are and how you need to position yourself. Using tools with longer handles (3-4 feet) allow you to sit or stand more upright without needing to be as close to what you are gardening.
Switch positions: Try not to work in one position for a long time. If you’re weeding and kneeling for a while, then move onto something that you can do in standing next. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get carried away with one task and stay it that position for a long time without realizing it.
Check out the link below for the full article on more in-depth suggestions, warm-up exercises, or for names of handy tools to help make your gardening experience easier and gentler on your physical limitations!