Pain-free gardening: Tips to prevent back pain while doing yard work. With the beginning of gardening season, I frequently hear this question from my patients. How do I do gardening without hurting myself.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to help reduce your risk:
1) I cannot tell you how many people I see pulling out weeds with their legs straight, bent all the way forward. As with any activity, good mechanics will save you lots of problems. If you are pulling out one weed, bend at the knees, and use your arm and leg strength to pull the weed. If you are pulling out many, or your knees will not allow you to squat, find a spot to sit on the ground so you don’t repetitively bend and lift your body weight.
2) Try sitting on something which lifts you off the ground a little, so your hips aren’t overflexed. I use a milk crate. Some people use a 5 gallon bucket or will even purchase a purpose-built low height rolling stool. I like these particularly, as they usually have a small tray underneath for carrying your gardening implements. The less stuff you have to pick up and move every time you relocate, the less you have to bend over, and the less likely you will be to hurt your back.
3) Don’t be a hero! I know you want to carry that 50-100 pound bag of mulch, and just get it over with. A better idea is to either use a wheel barrow, or if you don’t have one, open the bag and move smaller quantities at once. Again, a bucket is a great way to carry it, and the advantage is that you can then carry the bucket to the areas you need to mulch instead of hauling around a giant bag.
4) If you are clearing brush from your yard, use a set of shears to cut it down to a more manageable size. You would be shocked by the crazy body mechanics I have witnessed watching people try to accommodate the larger, irregularly shaped branches. Cutting them down to size will make it easier to manage, and perhaps even get them into a bag or wheel barrow to help get them across the yard.
5) Wear supportive shoes! I know it is getting warmer, and the temptation is to wear sandals or even to go barefoot while working in the garden. Even though it is relaxing, gardening is hard work, and can place a lot of strain on your feet. Supportive shoes will help your feet, and absorb some of the stress which would otherwise be transferred to your back.
6) Don’t try to do the entire garden in one stroke. Ok, it’s Saturday- the day you have set aside for gardening. Break the day up into smaller bits so you can give your back a rest. Use the breaks to re-hydrate, eat some nutritious food, or just to kick back and survey the fruits of your hard work.
These are just a few of the things you can do to help prevent gardening from wrecking your back. If you have any thoughts on keeping your back safe while doing yardwork, please send them in! I look forward to hearing about your experiences.
Posted by Dr. Babak Missaghi