As soon as the first warm day hits in spring, people head out to start getting their garden in shape ready for the summer. This often leads to clinics seeing a sudden increase in low back pain, and various joint pain patients. However, these injuries could be avoided if a few simple changes and considerations are made when people first head out into the garden.
Often these injuries arise from people taking on prolonged physical work after spending a lengthy period of time being inactive. When starting to get your garden in shape, injuries typically come from 2 types of strain:
1) Sudden traumatic strain like a slip or heavy lift.
2) A mild but sustained strain over a prolonged period.
People tend to be aware of the first type of strain and will instinctively try to avoid situations that may cause it, but the second type is often not considered. When a mild strain is maintained for a prolonged period then the tissues under strain begin to steadily fatigue, fail, and then strain. This often results from people heading out into the garden and spending relentless uninterrupted hours performing the same gardening activity.
With 2 simple considerations, the likelihood of injury can be reduced:
1) Take frequent breaks and accommodate rest periods as well as keeping your gardening tasks varied (avoiding repetitive strain)
2) Be aware of your posture and avoid positions that may increase strain, some ways to do this are detailed below:
When weeding avoid stooping over whilst keeping the legs straight, instead try to bend the knees and squat down to the level you are weeding at. If your knees are uncomfortable with this action then you may prefer to perform a lunging action or use a kneeling cushion and kneel down. With any position you choose, try to maintain an upright neutral posture to avoid low back slumping.
When digging avoid stooping forwards at the hips and instead partly flex the knees, using a wide and shallow squat stance. Keep the chest proud as you work to help maintain an upright posture. Many low back injuries occur when a slumping action is combined with a twist or turn as well.
When potting try to set the pots at a level you can work at with an upright posture; for example, at a level where you can sit and work. This reduces the strain involved and makes it easier to maintain an upright position. Also, be aware of your lifting technique to reduce strain and the chance of injury.
Considering these points and being aware of the strain you’re placing on your body will allow you to alter you gardening practices and hopefully reduce the chance of suffering pain and injury.
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