By: Dr. John A. Papa, DC, FCCPOR(C)
Spring is upon us and so is the arrival of the gardening season. Raking, lifting, digging, and planting can be strenuous activities. Below are some simple rules and precautions that can be followed to help avoid and prevent injury during the gardening season.
1. Warm up: Prepare your body for physical activity by stimulating the joints and muscles, and increasing blood circulation. Climbing stairs, marching on the spot, or going for a quick walk around the block can serve as excellent warm ups in five to ten minutes. Follow this with some gentle stretch exercises such as knee to chest, forearm and wrist stretches.
2. Use the right tools: Make sure you select the correct tool for the task to be performed. Always make sure that tools are a comfortable weight and size for you. There are many ergonomically designed tools, which are lightweight with long padded handles and spring action mechanisms that can reduce strain and effort.
3. Proper lifting means bend the knees, keep the back straight and brace! Use your leg and arm muscles to do the lifting while keeping your back straight. Maintaining the natural and neutral curves of your back is important, as this is its strongest and most secure position. Contracting and bracing your abdominal muscles during lifting improves spinal stability and decreases the chance of injury. Avoid twisting and turning by positioning yourself accordingly. Be sure to lift slowly and smoothly with the load close to your body and do not jerk with your lifts.
4. Alternate activities and change positions: Once you begin, take turns alternating between heavy chores such as digging, and lighter less physically demanding tasks such as planting, every 10 to 15 minutes. Avoid prolonged working postures. Changing hands frequently when you rake, hoe or dig prevents muscle strain and joint stress on one side of the body.
5. Preparing for the elements and pacing: Select comfortable, thick-soled, protective shoes that support your arches to reduce back pain and aching muscles. To protect from sun exposure, apply sunscreen, wear a wide-brim hat and drink plenty of water. Wear loose and comfortable clothing. Know your physical limits. Stop gardening immediately if you feel chest pain or persistent back or joint pain.
In the event that you suffer a back, neck, or joint injury while gardening that does not subside, you should contact a licensed health professional who deals in the diagnosis and treatment of muscle and joint pain. For more information, visit www.nhwc.ca.
This article is a basic summary for educational purposes only. It is not intended, and should not be considered, as a replacement for consultation, diagnosis or treatment by a duly licensed health practitioner.