Highland Physical Therapy

Enjoying Gardening while Protecting Your Back

It can be very frustrating to have back pain interfere with your garden plan. You end up watching plant starts or seed just sitting on the counter while weeds continue to grow in the garden beds. And you may not know when you will feel well enough to get back at it. I’ve hurt my back twice while gardening. The first was after clearing the garden bed to get it ready for planting. The second – and more severe – injury was at harvest time. I was trying to get ALL the tomatoes and veggies in before the first frost. It never pays to hurry in the garden! That’s why I’ve written about ways that you can enjoy gardening while protecting your back.
​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.
​Warm Up – walk for 5 minutes and stretch.
Here are 2 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.
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. (Illustration by Adobestock)       



(Illustration by Adobestock)
​Use good tools. Using the right tool for the job 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.


Kimberly has been working as a Physical Therapist for nearly 30 years. Many of her patients have sought help to relieve their back pain, and Kimberly has been able to help!