I am currently in my fifth year as a practicing chiropractor, and I have began to recognize a few patterns over the years when it comes to identifying particular injuries patients present to me with. This April, it was not a surprise to me when I spotted my first spring bloom (picture above) as well as my first lower back pain patient secondary to a gardening injury of the spring season in the same week. This time of year, the waiting room is often filled with patients who have injured themselves gardening and doing yard work.
Spine, muscle, and nervous system conditions are the most common cause of long-term pain and physical disability. Approximately 80% of adults will experience spine, muscle and nervous system pain at some point in their lifetime. These types of pain are generally caused by repetitive strain, overuse, and physical activity-related injuries (1). Gardening can easily be the culprit for these types of injuries, and can be one most challenging activities for your spine. It is also among the leading causes for lower back pain. Gardening is an activity that requires you to work in a bent position, which can negatively impacts your lower back mechanics. Repetitive raking, planting and digging can also leave you with shoulder, knee and hip pain. This pain can show up over night, or later on during the week even.
Here are seven back saving tips as published by the Canadian Chiropractic Association (2):
Tip #1: Warm up
After waiting all winter, it may be tempting to jump right into the spring garden cleanup. Do your future self a favour and pause to warm up your muscles before you start the work. Like any other physical activity, gardening requires preparing your body for the new movements. In fact, over the winter months, you may have become deconditioned and will require some time before you can invest yourself into a regular gardening routine.
A quality gardening warm up begins with five to ten minutes of light to moderate aerobic activity to gradually increase your heart rate. This will result in an increased body temperature in order to prepare your muscles for stretching. Some examples on how you could achieve this are by:
- Walking around the block
- Walking around the garden and determine your to-do list for the day
- Instead of bringing all your gardening tools all at once, make several trips in and out of the shed to gather what you’ll need for the day
2. Hamstring Stretch: While sitting at the edge of a chair, straighten one leg in front of the body with the heel on the floor. Then, sit up straight and try pushing the navel towards the thigh without leaning the trunk of the body forwards. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times for each leg.
3. Chest Opener: sitting on the edge of a chair with legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart, have your palms face upwards and lift the chest up. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Perform 3-4 times throughout the day.
4. Wrist Stretch: Extend your arm with your palm facing up towards the ceiling. With your free hand, gently press your fingers down towards the floor. Gently pull your fingers back toward your body and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
5. Chin Tucks: While seated, look forward and bring your head backwards, as if you were making a double chin. Make sure not to tilt your head down. Hold this for 8 seconds. Repeat 5 times per set. Perform 3-4 sets throughout the day.
When you’re in the zone, one can lose track of time. Hungry to see results, you might just plow through the work without paying attention to your body’s cues. However, it’s wise to pace yourself instead of powering through to get the job done. Set a timer and take a break every 15-20 minutes to stand up, stretch and walk around a bit rather than staying in the same position for extended periods of time.
Tip #3: Drink water
Hydration is always important, but especially when you are physically active under the sun. Carry a bottle of water along with your garden tools. When you take your break every 15-20minutes, have a drink of water also.
Tip #4: Breathe
While you’re stretching and hydrating, take in some deep, oxygenating breaths to nourish your hard working muscles and help to improve circulation. Keep your shoulders and chest relaxed. When breathing deeply, you should see your abdomen extend out and then in calmly.
Tip #5: Listen to your body
It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer joy of getting your hands dirty. Gardening can be very meditative, in fact. However, be careful not to get so lost in the task that you ignore those sneaky aches and pains until it’s too late. As I always tell my patients, pay attention to the messages your body is sending you. If you feel a twinge, take a break or change positions.
Tip #6: Be mindful of large loads
Bags of mulch and soil or heavy potted plants come with the territory. Instead of lugging a whole bag of soil from one end of the garden to the other, consider using a wheeled cart. Divide large loads into smaller batches that are easier to handle. If you must lift something heavy, consider asking for help, or following these instructions on how to lift properly (3):
1. Place your feet shoulder width apart
2. Bend your knees and keep your back straight
3. Squat down to the level of the object and test the weight of the load
4. Ask for help if the load is too heavy or awkward
5. Use the strength of your core, leg, arm muscles (not your back) to smoothly and slowly lift the load. Try not to jerk when lifting
6. Keep the load close to your body
7. Never twist your body while turning and carrying the load
8. Pivot to turn in the direction you want to move toward
9. Bend your knees and slowly lower the load to its new location
Tip #7: Vary your tasks
Rather than concentrating on one area or job at a time, vary your tasks to ensure that you aren’t holding the same position for extended periods.
In Nova Scotia, where the summer season is slow to arrive, we all get a bit excited to spend some time in the garden, getting our hands dirty, and watching our flowers bloom and yielding those fresh veggies.
At Choice Health Centre, our chiropractors and physiotherapists are highly educated and trained in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries. If you happen to find yourself with a spring injury, you should not hesitate to get it assessed and treated by one of our clinicians when you first notice that nagging pain. If it does not get looked after early, it could have the potential to follow you into the winter months.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more you can contact Dr. Brigitte MacPhail or one of our other clinicians. To book an appointment call 902-404-3668 or book online.
1. Kamloops Physiotherapy (2017). Musculoskeletal pain.
2. Canadian Chiropractic Association (2015). Seven back saving tips for gardeners.
3. Canadian Chiropractic Association (2018). Lift Right.