How-To: The Best (Chiropractor Approved) Back Saving Tips For Gardening
Gardening can be a great way to get outside and be active, but sometimes those stubborn aches and pains can be an unwanted barrier for us. Here are some chiropractor approved tips to help ease the way into your spring garden clean up while minimizing the risk of muscle and joint pain.
Warm up your muscles
A “dynamic warm up”, or movement-based warm-up, before any physical activity can help prevent injuries. It is important to avoid holding prolonged, static stretches on “cold” muscles that aren’t warmed up, be sure to move your body gently through it’s ranges of motion to increased blood flow and heart rate. A dynamic warm up can include a 10-minute walk around the block, moving those major muscle groups (legs, shoulders, hips, and neck) with joint circles, squats, windmills or do some jumping jacks– anything that will get your heart rate up will be helpful.
Take frequent breaks
Instead of working for hours straight to get everything done, it can be helpful to take short breaks every 15-30 minutes to stretch, walk around, change your posture or grab a drink of water.
Always bring out a bottle of water with you to stay hydrated, especially when working in the sun to diminish chance of dehydration and muscle cramping. We should drink half our body weight in pounds in ounces of water day at a minimum! This number would increase with exertion and sweating (so a 100 lb person should minimally drink 50 oz of water a day).
Listen to your body
Stop for the day when you begin to experience some aches and pains. Your garden will be there for you tomorrow! Don’t ignore those signals from your body until it’s too late! If you have been doing the same task for a while, (ie, weeding), try something different that uses different postures/muscles to ease that particular stress on your body (ie. trimming shrubs).
If you have to lift any heavy objects consider a wheelbarrow or someone from your household to help you or divide the load into smaller, more manageable ones. Before lifting, position yourself close to the object. While keeping your back straight, activate your core (stomach muscles), bend your knees to pick up the object and in then stand up while keeping the load close to your body. Try to avoid twisting with the object- move your feet instead, once you are fully upright.
Scissor stance can be helpful to relieve the pressure off your back, put one foot forward and the other foot back. Switch up your stance from time to time.
Avoid the habit of standing and bending forward while weeding or planting, instead kneeling can be easier on your back. Bonus if you can use something to support your knees such as kneepads or a mat. A good rule of thumb is to face squarely whatever you are working on to reduce twisting/reaching. Move the job closer to you to avoid these potentially pain provoking movements.
Just as important as the warm up, make sure to stretch out all those major muscle groups before you finish for the day! This is the proper time for holding those static stretches for the muscle groups we use with gardening. Some good ones to try are as follows:
Stand with feet hip width apart, reach one arm up toward the sky, then tip slightly to the opposite side, keeping both feet planted firmly on the ground. You should feel this on side of your lower back you are stretching away from/the side of the lower back that your arm is reaching upward with.
Rest one foot on a chair, bench or step in front of you. Keeping hips square/ facing forward, stick your buttock out behind you, keep your back flat and lean slightly forward from your hip, trying not to bend through your back. Grab a chair or railing for balance, and note, there is no need to try to touch your toes if you use proper form. You should feel this in the back of your upper thigh.
Hold a chair for balance with one hand, reach behind you to grab your ankle and gently pull heel to buttock. Be sure to push your hips forward- it helps to think of tucking your tailbone under you, or squeezing your buttock cheeks together to accomplish this. Also do not let the knee you are stretching move ahead of your standing leg’s knee. You should feel this in the front of your thigh.
Working in the yard can be fun and enjoyable but it is filled with repetitive type movements, which can be tough on the body if we don’t prepare properly. Give these tips a try next time you are working in the yard, your body will thank you!