Why are low back injuries common during and after gardening?
From when the gardening season begins in spring and until the end of the summer chiropractors have an influx of patients with back pain caused by over-zealous gardening.
The reason many people get backache when they undertake what is a relatively restful activity such as gardening, is that the actions required are quite different from those carried out the rest of the year. The way you bend and move determines how much strain is put on the spine. By using certain muscles to protect your back you can reduce the likelihood of developing pain. The more frequently you do the exercises, the stronger and more protected your back will be.
One fundamental causes of back pain when gardening is prolonged stretching and overuse of the ligaments and joints in the spine. Digging, stooping and bending over whilst planting place considerable stress on the lower joints of the lumbar spine and can cause them to become inflamed and tender. This in turn triggers an increased muscle tone (hypertonus) which gives rise to the deeper, duller, achy type of pain that occurs over the following few days.
There are many ways to prevent injuries. The way you bend and move determines how much strain is put on the spine and by using certain muscles to protect your back you can reduce the likelihood of developing pain. Warm up and stretch first;
Get your muscles warm before doing any stretching
You should never stretch a cold muscle as this increases the chances of injury. Get your heart rate up by doing some brisk walking or even some gentle jogging if you are up for it.
Stretching and flexibility exercises
stretch only as far as comfortable. You should not feel any pain, just tension in the muscle you are stretching.
- Lie on your back, bend your right leg and pull your knee to your chest, keeping the other leg straight. Repeat on the other side and with both legs together. Repeat 2-3 times.
- Kneel on all fours. Relax your back and let your spine go hollow, and then reverse the curve in your spine by arching your back. Repeat 10 times.
- Stand up and support yourself on a wall or chair. Grab your right ankle with your right hand and pull your heel towards your buttock. Repeat 2-3 times on each leg.
- Link your fingers behind your head. Lean to each side in turn for 10 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
- Put your hands on your hips and rotate to each side in turn and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
More Tips to prevent problems
Always try to bend your knees rather than bending from the waist. Crouch rather than bend!
* Start with lighter jobs first. Once you are warmed up and ready to start, don’t dive into the heavy garden work first. Start and end with the lighter jobs, this will prepare your body further before heavy work and help you cool down at the end.
* When raking leaves draw the rake in the direction of your navel.
* Kneel on one leg rather than bending down repeatedly from the hips.
* Try to keep your back hollow when digging, with the legs spaced apart.
* Vary the tasks of the day into short bursts. Several different activities are better than slogging all day at one thing.
* When mowing lawns with a hover mower try to resist the temptation to swing the mower from side to side in an arc. Instead, mow forwards and backwards as you would with a conventional cylinder mower.
* If you suffer with knee problems such as osteoarthritis and tend to stoop rather than kneeling, then use a cushion to kneel on or when bending try to keep the back as hollow as possible.
* Keep your self warm and covered, ie keep shirts tucked in as this prevents the muscles becoming chilled.
* If you ache the next day; rest and seek the advice of your chiropractor who will advise whether you should apply heat or icepacks to the area, or indeed require further treatment.
REMEMBER – You should exercise to keep fit so that you can enjoy your gardening rather than using your gardening to keep fit!