Many of us see this time of the year as a good opportunity to take to our gardens armed with a shovel and trowel in order to give the garden a tidy up. What we don’t realise is how much of a strain tackling those overgrown bushes and nasty weeds can put on our bodies. Gardening involves a lot of repetitive tasks and staying in one position for a prolonged periods of time, both of which may lead to injury. It is also seen by many as a casual hobby, not exercise, and is therefore undertaken without any proper warm up and stretching routine before starting. Would you play a sport you haven’t played for several months continually for up to six hours, on the first time back? I certainly wouldn’t, so what is so different about gardening…..
Lower back and neck pain Activities such as digging, weeding, planting and raking require you to perform repetitive movements and hold prolonged bending postures. This can often lead to overuse injuries causing strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the back as well as putting a pressure on the intervertebral discs. These overuse injuries often cause pain and stiffness in the back due to muscles going in to spasm, overstraining of joints & intervertebral discs and in more severe cases nerves becoming trapped. It is important to take regular breaks from repetitive activities and perform a few gentle stretches in between. Remember to take care and use a proper lifting technique when lifting heavy loads such as compost bags as well, as this can cause an immediate injury to the back and neck if done incorrectly. You should always start lifting with your knees bent and back straight and keep the load close to your body, avoiding any twisting movements with your back when lifting and placing the items down.
Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow are forms of epicondylitis, an inflammation of tendons that attach to the elbow. Tennis Elbow affects the lateral, or outside, epicondyle and Golfer’s Elbow affects the medial, or inside, epicondyle. Gardening tasks which require a lot of gripping or repetitive elbow and wrist movement can lead to either golfers or tennis elbow due to the strain and overuse put through the tendons of the forearm. Ensure the grip sizes on your tools match up to your hands as well as this will place less stress on your forearm muscles. Take regular breaks and perform some light wrist and elbow stretches to help avoid muscle tightness and fatigue building up. If you begin to feel pain around the elbow stop doing any aggravating activities and apply ice to help reduce the inflammation.
Bursitis is the inflammation of the small fluid filled sacs that cushion the ligaments, muscles and tendons around joints. This painful condition commonly occurs around the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee joints. It can be caused by direct trauma to the affected area or by repetitive overuse. The most common bursitis in relation to gardening occurs in the pre-patellar bursa which sits just below the knee cap. This commonly occurs when maintaining a prolonged kneeling position as it places direct pressure on to the pre-patellar bursa and has been referred to as “carpet layer’s knee” and “roofers knee”. In order to avoid this, try using a small stool or a pad for extended periods of weeding and planting.
Shoulder Impingement is a very common condition where the rotator cuff tendons are intermittently pinched and compressed in the small space through which they pass (subacromial space) as the arm is moved overhead. Eventually the tendons become inflamed leading to weakness around the shoulder and pain when moving the arm. Repetitive overhead activities involved in gardening such as pruning bushes can cause rotator cuff impingement. To avoid this use a step ladder and take regular breaks from tasks which require you to keep your arms in an overhead position for a prolonged period of time.
QUICK TIPS TO AVOID PAIN & INJURY IN THE GARDEN THIS SUMMER!
- Don’t try to do it all in one day! Begin with 30 minute tasks and gradually increase the time you spend in the garden over a month in the spring.
- Warm up! Do five minutes of light walking or raking first to increase your cardiovascular output (heart rate) and prepare your body for exercise.
- Use a gardening stool or pad for extended periods of weeding or planting.
- Try to keep the majority of your tasks below shoulder height and above mid-thigh level to prevent injury to your shoulders and lower back or shoulders.
- No body part takes kindly to sustained positioning, so be sure to take frequent breaks. Put your hands in the small of your back and gently lean backwards a few times every 15-20 minutes to stretch the joints of the lower back.
- Use step ladders and long handled tools for tasks that require you to reach overhead or bend for prolonged periods of time.
- Always use a good technique when lifting and carrying.