By: Jason Gallant, Registered Physiotherapist
The warmer weather is finally here, and with that comes gardening season! Many of us can’t wait to get our gardens back on top shape for the summer, but it can be hard work and a strain on our bodies. Here are some tips to keep you injury-free while working in the garden this summer.
You’re excited to get out in the warm weather and get your garden started, but chances are you haven’t done many of these movements all winter. It’s important to warm up your body to get it ready for the hard work you’re about to put it through. A few slow, controlled movements are all it takes to warm up: arm circles, trunk rotations, and squats are a great place to start. A physiotherapist can give you a more personalized warm up and stretching program based on your specific needs.
Use the Right Tools
These can make all the difference to keep you away from awkward positions that can put you at risk for injury. Use tools with long handles so you can avoid bending over to use them. When choosing tillers or weeders, always get ones that give you the option to stand and use them, rather than have ones that require you to bend or kneel. Use a wheel barrow to move heavy loads instead of trying to lift everything yourself. Get an apron to store your smaller tools in so you don’t have to constantly twist or reach for them.
Use Proper Technique
Body positioning is key to keeping undue stress off your back, knees, and shoulders. We can’t always avoid lifting, bending, and carrying when gardening so it’s important to do it properly. When bending, always bend at the knees, not your back. Try to hinge at your hips instead of rounding your back. Tighten your core muscles (like someone’s going to punch you in the stomach) and keep the load your lifting close to you, especially if you’re carrying it somewhere.
When kneeling, try a ‘half kneeling’ position, where one knee is on the ground and the other foot is in front of you, with your knee bent to 90 degrees. This helps to protect your back better than going down on both knees. While kneeling, keep your work in front of you, and avoid having to bend or twist to reach things. Use knee pads to lower the impact on your joints.
When shoveling, keep your back straight when putting the blade in the ground. Avoid twisting, instead turn and face the area that you want to put your load. Lift small amounts at a time and use a lighter shovel to reduce the strain on your body.
It’s never good to stay in any position for too long, especially if you’re bent over or kneeling. Plan your jobs accordingly. If you know you have a lot of planting to do, bring only a few plants over at a time. Bend or kneel to plant them, stand back up, stretch, and bring over a few more. Switch back and fourth from shoveling to raking, so you’re not stuck doing the same repetitive movement all day. Listen to your body. If you’re getting tired or sore, it might be time to call it a day. Don’t try to push past any pant, as that could make things worse. Spread larger tasks over a week or 2 instead of trying to do everything on 1 weekend.
Now get outside, stay active, and get growing!