We are over the long, dreary, cold days of winter. Lawn mowers spring to life, wheel barrows are full of mulch, and everywhere you look, people are shoveling, stooping, and planting. For most of us, our backs and knees are not as forgiving of an idle winter season as our flower beds.
Following an afternoon’s pleasure in the yard, we are reminded that we overindulged in an activity of which we were unaccustomed, and now we are suffering in our backs, knees, and all over our body.
In a recent Gallop pole of 2,000 adults, nearly half suffer from back pain and half of those do so as a result of gardening. Is that really surprising though? We have spent the last several months inside, away from these activities, and perhaps away from any activity. We are out of “shape,” and our muscles have become tighter and weaker. We haven’t done anything to address those nagging aches and pains from last year. In the spring rush of enthusiasm we then stay at tasks for hours bent over. We lift heavy loads. We twist, kneel, stand, and overreach.
So what’s a gardener to do? The first and most important step is to give your body the same consideration you give your garden by spending a little time planning and preparing.
- Prepare: Those nagging or recurring back or knee problems that limited you last year will still be with you if you haven’t done anything about them. Just as athletes rehab their injuries and train in the off season, gardeners should do the same. A comprehensive examination by a skilled physician is the first step to identifying the root cause of your pain and dysfunction. The prescription will involve starting an appropriate exercise program of focused stretching and strengthening, or perhaps an injection of your arthritic knee may be needed. Additionally, a well designed, “preseason” training program of stretching and strengthening will often prevent or limit soreness or new problems.
- Adjust: If you have back and or knee problems, raise the height of your flower beds or sit on a stool.
- Warm-up: Begin every gardening session with some stretches provided by your therapist.
- Tools: Use the right tools, whenever possible use long handled, lightweight tools.
- Work Smart: Avoid working in a single position more than 20 minutes. For example, weed for a while, then prune for a while, now plant a few bulbs, etc…
- Bend Your Knees: To lift with ease you need to bend your knees. Plan your lifts. If it looks too heavy ask for help. If you do lift keep you back straight and lift with you legs. Always carry the load close to your body.
- Water: Drink Lots of Water. Working muscles build up toxins. Water helps flush them out and limits post activity soreness.