Highland Physical Therapy

Enjoy Gardening While Protecting Your Back

This is the time of year when avid gardeners are clearing out old beds and prepping for new flowers and vegetables. It’s very tempting to dive right when the weather is good. Here are a few tips to prevent back pain and enjoy gardening through the whole season.

Warm Up – walk for 5 minutes and stretch. Here are 3 simple stretches:

  • Reach both arms above your head, then lean slightly to each side.
  • Sit down, then slowly reach for the ground with both hands between your feet. Then move both hands to the side of one foot, then the other.
  • Move your arms in gentle circles, forward and backward.

Begin with small time increments – 10 to 15 minutes. Gardening tasks are something you haven’t done in months. Your muscles and nervous system need time to adapt to these new movement patterns. Set a timer and stop for a break, or for the day. The yard and garden will wait for you.

Bend forward with hips, knees, and ankles. Keeping your natural spine curves intact which protect the discs, nerves, and muscles from injury. This also allows them to work more efficiently. Remember, the job of your core muscles is to stabilize the spine. The job of leg muscles is to lift, pivot and move your body.   

Use good tools. Using the right tool makes gardening easier and more enjoyable. Make sure the handles are well connected and don’t shift easily. Check blades of shovels, hoes, and trowels to see if they are dull. Are parts of your tools broken? If so, it’s worth the time and effort to have them sharpened, repaired, or replaced. Longer handled tools are helpful to reduce the amount of time on the ground. Wagons and wheelbarrows make transporting large or heavy loads much easier.

Use a bench or foam mat to project your joints. When sitting on a bench, again be sure to keep your natural spinal curves and bend at your hips, knees, and ankles. When kneeling on a mat, use one arm to support you while using the other for gardening. Or use a half kneeling position to protect your back. Be sure to switch leg positions.

Make plants easier to reach – consider using containers, raised beds, and vertical stands for some of your plants. This not only makes them easier to reach but can add interest and aesthetic value.

Stay Hydrated – The warmer the weather, the more you should drink. One result of dehydration is muscle spasm.

Much of this advice is simple. However, sometimes a few reminders can be helpful! If you happen to overdo it and hurt your back, we are here to help you reduce your pain, strengthen hurt muscles, and get you back to your garden beds!