Spring has sprung and summer is just around the corner! If you’re a gardener and/or yardwork lover, you’re probably getting anxious to get your green thumb working again. Most of you have probably already broken out the rakes and shovels to get to work this year. Unfortunately, some of you eager gardeners might have also woken up with aches and pains the next morning. Even though yardwork is thought to be a chore, it still holds some potential risk of injury and pain. Everything from weeding flowerbeds to lifting bags of dirt can leave our bodies with significant aches, especially after a winter of not using certain muscles. In today’s blog, we want to explain how to get back into your gardening and yardwork pain-free in order to avoid injury.
Ease into Yardwork
We know that we’re all eager to get outside and do something productive after a long winter season. This year we especially understand the desire to leave the indoors and do some physically distant outdoor activities like gardening. However, while yardwork is a great way to get some sun exposure, stay active, and stimulate your mind, you need to remember to take it slow. After a long winter, your body can become adjusted to a lower amount of physical activity, so you need to be mindful about engaging your gardening muscles at the beginning of gardening season. Just like any exercise or sport, rushing straight into full gardening mode to try to accomplish too much in one day will only result in pain. Our Livewell Health and Physiotherapy team recommend gradually increasing the amount of time you spend in the garden to avoid rushing it all over one weekend. Perhaps start with the smaller, less strenuous tasks like raking and weeding so that you can gradually work up to more demanding projects like lifting heavy bags of soil or wheeling around stones. Even though some of you would probably prefer to get yardwork done as fast as possible so you can enjoy your deck or patio, trying to do too much too quickly could lead to injuries that mean more time indoors. Yardwork is not a race - give your body time to adjust and listen to your body to avoid injuries.
Stretch and Take Breaks
Part of easing into yardwork also involves proper stretching before beginning tasks and taking breaks throughout. Many gardening motions are demanding on your body, so make sure to stretch out joints and muscles so they have a chance to loosen up and prepare for the work ahead. Most people underestimate the amount of stress yardwork can put on your body. Take a second to carefully think about the actual movements you are doing while gardening – they may not seem like a lot but when broken down, actually resemble motions done when playing various sports. Like you would with any sport, make sure you thoroughly stretch before beginning your yardwork. Ensure that you are focusing on your neck, legs, back, and other areas your specific gardening tasks will involve. It is also important to take frequent breaks and change positions. Alternate between different yardwork tasks to avoid holding your body in prolonged positions that can lead to pain and injury.
Use Proper Equipment
You can reduce the amount of stress you place on your body by wearing and using the proper equipment. Footwear in particular is important to prevent strain and injury. You need to avoid wearing flip-flops, sandals, or any other open-toe footwear when gardening to avoid painful drops, bruises, cuts, breaks, trips, and rolled ankles. Our team recommends wearing shoes that you can tie up to snuggly hold your foot like sneakers or hiking boots. You should also consider wearing steel toe boots to protect your feet against anything that can be accidentally dropped or kicked while doing yardwork. To prevent further strain from reaching, you need to get close to your yardwork so kneeling on special gardening mats or kneepads are your best options. If your knees or hips are a problem area for you, or they just start to ache, switch to sitting on a low object instead. Try a sturdy upside-down bucket or special gardening bench and consider using specialized gardening tools to avoid prolonged reaching.
Practice Proper Lifting, Kneeling, and Bending Techniques
Poor gardening techniques are the most common cause of pain and soreness. Follow our tips to prevent injury and maintain a healthy yardwork routine.
Proper Lifting – to avoid back injuries, always lift with your knees and not your back. When gardening, you could potentially be lifting objects as heavy as 50 pounds with items like bags of mulch, landscaping rocks, stumps, and any trips with your wheelbarrow. If you know you will not be able to lift something, do not attempt it. Ask a family member to help you move anything that you should not be lifting alone. Knowing your limits is not a sign of weakness but will instead save your back and allow you to continue with other gardening tasks.
Proper Kneeling – did you know that there is a proper and improper way to kneel? Most people are unaware of the difference but, between all the weeding and planting, proper kneeling is crucial to injury prevention while doing yardwork. To properly kneel, only ever place one knee on the ground at a time because you need the support of the other leg. This supporting leg should be bent at a 90-degree angle so that you can lean on it and remove some of the weight from your knee on the ground. Remember that knee pads are a great option for further knee relief.
Proper Bending – if you prefer bending instead of kneeling, just remember to take frequent breaks, stand up to stretch your legs, and walk around for a couple of minutes. While bending is a perfectly acceptable alternative to kneeling, you need to ensure to prevent stiffness and cramping in your back, legs and neck. You can also elevate your flower beds or gardening containers so you can tend to them at a more comfortable height.
Follow these simple rules to prevent gardening aches and pains. Remember that there is no sense ignoring these tips as doing so will only lead to injuries that will prevent you from completing your yardwork throughout the year. That being said, we know that sometimes accidents happen, and it is important for you to know how to treat any pain or stiffness before heading back outside. Contact our team at Livewell Health and Physiotherapy who can diagnose any pain or soreness, treat injuries of all severities, and can help you get back out to your yard. Contact us for assistance — the sooner you reach out to us the sooner we can get you back to your usual self.
Want more lifestyle advice on how to improve your overall health and wellness? Contact our Livewell Health and Physiotherapy Kitchener and Baden teams for more tips and don't forget to view our other services that can help put you on the right track.