Spring has sprung and it’s the time of year where the masses head to their gardens. Most of us perceive gardening to be a relatively gentle activity. However danger may lurk behind every bush and in every bed.
The reality is that at the first sight of blossom most of us get a rush of blood to the head. We get into our gardens like there is no tomorrow. Many of us suffer as a consequence.
A & E Clinics, Doctors and Physiotherapy rooms are full of these weekend warriors.
More often than not, it’s a case of too much too soon. We spend the winter in our physical cocoon only to roar into a full day of heavy labour in the garden come spring.
Back injuries occur with prolonged stooping, bending and lifting. Shoulder strains from over reaching and pulling stubborn weeds. Tendonitis, tennis & golfers elbow from overuse on the secateurs. The list is never ending. There are a number of simple strategies that can not only reduce the risk of injury but make the job easier and more enjoyable.
Pre Season Training
· Prepare these muscles and joints prior to the spring clean up. A simple aerobic, walking and light resistance programme started a month before spring will help condition the muscles to the work ahead.
· Warm up and stretch prior to picking up the tools. Gardening is not unlike other forms of exercise, a simple 3-4 minute warm up (especially on cold days) and stretch helps prepare the muscles and joints for activity.
· Plan to spread the load over a few sessions or days or take regular breaks from the heavier work to carry out lighter work.
· Avoid high repetition for prolonged periods. Pruning is the classic example, with many a gardener experiencing tendonitis from a few hours on the hand secateurs.
· Plan regular breaks from the heavier work to hydrate or just step back and contemplate the work done to date.
· Garden tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Pick a tool with a handgrip that fits your hand.
· Long handled tools require less trunk bending reducing the risk to your low back.
· When in doubt use the loppers over the secateurs.
· Wheelbarrows are a fantastic tool but remember you don’t have to fill it to overflowing.
Raised Beds & Soil Structure
· Raised beds are a wonderful option for reducing the need to bend, lowering one risk of back injury.
· Regular mulching of the soil allows for reduced weed growth and easier pulling of weeds.
· Regular soil conditioning, especially for clay based soils, helps to loosen the soil structure making for easier digging and weed pulling.
· It is pretty hard to beat a long handled hoe for removing weeds. Most weeds are easily lifted by scraping the top 1-2 inches minimising the need to break up the deeper soil.
· Avoid jerking to pull weeds especially those long grasses with deeper root structure.
· Avoid constant gripping, overpowering the grip and end range joint positions, especially at the wrist.
· Reduce the load and make a few more trips.
· Plan the lift and lift to the plan. Most lifting injuries occur from poor planning.
· Bend at the hips not the low back. This is the simple reason weight lifters rarely have problems with their backs.
· Lift with a wide, stable base, keep the spine straight and tighten the abdominal during the lift.
· Before and after lifting arch backwards 3-5 times.
Mike Stewart is a Physiotherapist at the Oamaru Physiotherapy Clinic. He has Post Graduate qualifications in Manipulative Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine and is a registered Physiotherapy Acupuncturist