Gardening safety: Keep the aches away
The painstaking grounds and well-manicured flowerbeds of great gardeners can come at a cost. Many of the activities of gardening — if not done correctly — can put added stresses and strains on your body. Some of the most common complaints of avid gardeners are backaches, repetitive motion injuries, muscle soreness and blisters. Here’s how you can avoid some aches and pains.
Warm-up stretches can help reduce the tightness that can come from using or overusing certain muscle groups.
For shoulder tightness, try doing a series of large arm circles. To relieve neck tension, slowly and gently pull your head forward and down several times. Head rolls are another neck exercise for tightness where you can roll your head from shoulder to shoulder only.
As a caution, do not roll your head backwards as this puts stress on the disks in our spine. Bring your left ear toward your left shoulder slowly. Then lower your chin as you roll your head down and to the right. Your right ear should then be toward your right shoulder. Roll the head from side to side in a smooth rhythm.
Start with the right tools.
Gloves will protect your hands from calluses, blisters and cuts and wearing supportive shoes can provide a basis for proper posture during gardening. A wheelbarrow will make moving heavier objects easier and long-handled tools can help reach hard-to-get areas. Lighter weight tools (with smaller blades) may also help you avoid straining your muscles.
Take an inflammatory drug about 15 minutes before getting started to relieve pain and swelling as it happens. Squat with your knees and let your thigh and arm muscles do the work. When moving an object, consider turning your feet, instead of your upper body, to avoid twisting your back.
Alternate between tasks to avoid repetitive motion injuries.
If you start with digging, after a while switch to pruning or weeding and then come back to digging. This strategy can help you avoid muscle fatigue and soreness in most muscle groups.
When planting or weeding, get down on your hands and knees, rather than bending at the waist.
Bending, twisting or lifting improperly can lead to back strain. For some, planting in container gardens offers another option that can easily be reached while sitting.
When moving a heavy object, first gauge the weight of that object.
Squat with your knees and let your thigh and arm muscles do the work. Move your feet closer to the object you are lifting, taking a wide stance to steady yourself. When moving the object, consider turning your feet, instead of just your upper body, to avoid twisting your back. And remember, take breaks to stretch your back.
Take time to stretch.
If you are working on your hands and knees, periodically do the “cat” stretch by raising your stomach and back. At the same time, lower your head and tuck your chin in towards your chest to avoid strain on your neck. Do these motions slowly and repeat several times with a rest in between.
Cool down. After all of your tools are back in the shed, take time to loosen up the muscles you’ve been working. Use the same before and during stretches for the muscles that had the greatest workout.
Arm circles, neck rolls and hamstring stretches are a great place to start. Once back inside, consider icing any muscle groups that had a particularly hard workout. This will limit swelling — and soreness — from your day.
Remember, working in the garden is good for the body and soul. Beyond the health benefits of this fun and rewarding exercise is the beauty that can be enjoyed all year long.