Pick the word that doesn’t belong in a gardening scene:
a) Weeding b) Planting c) Stretching d) Watering
If you picked c) – incorrect answer. They all belong in equal measures to the 21st century gardener!
With some lovely spring days creeping into our Canberran lives of late, it is of utmost importance to be prepared physically as we tackle the garden once more. A pattern of stretching before undertaking gardening can greatly reduce the risk of injuring yourself. Prominent injuries from gardening that we see at this time of year at Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy are:
• Lower back muscle strains
• Wrist overuse injuries
• Shoulder strains
• Achilles and calf complaints
• Aggravated knee conditions
In the age of workplace ergonomic setups and sit-to-stand desks, we spend an enormous amount of time ensuring that we prevent overuse and strain injuries. The anecdotes we hear in the clinic surrounding an injury in the garden generally come from a lack of planning and/or a non-existent warm up.
Thankfully, the majority of aches and pains gardeners experience can be prevented. Physiotherapists have the education, knowledge and skill to help keep you gardening pain-free. If you have suffered from an injury whilst out in the field, it is best to have someone assess your injury, core strength and lifting capacity.
As an active member of Canberra Organic Growers Society (http://www.cogs.asn.au/) for the past 3 years, I have slowly started to get other gardeners on-board in terms of a regular stretching program. The feedback so far has been consistent- the more you stretch, the more flexible you are the following morning.
Stretches for gardeners are really important. Incorporating this into your regular routine is paramount to the success of your garden. A quote from my friends at the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, to summarise this last point, is “The secret to a healthy garden is a healthy gardener.”
Before you stretch, warm up!
Starting with some gentle raking or watering is good idea to get your large muscle groups moving. This should be completed at a leisurely pace. Aiming for 5-10 minutes is an excellent way to get your blood flowing around the body, in preparation for a large slice of time spent in the garden.
It is also a good idea to stay hydrated throughout the day. For appropriate cell function, a continual supply of water is crucial. Our water specialist, Jamie, has given you the specifics here on how crucial it is for your body.
8 stretches for gardeners to maximise your gardening
1. Roll down
2. Thoracic rotation
4. Wrist flexor and extensor
7. Long groin
Proper lifting technique
Before you have picked up anything in your garden, plan where you are lifting your items. This way, accidents are prevented as trip hazards have been removed. Where possible, have a friend help you with particularly heavy or awkward equipment.
Ensure the object you are lifting is close to your torso as it places less stress on your lower back. Bending your knees to adopt a squatting position to lift is also a critical component as a lot of our strength lies in our legs.
Keeping your back straight is easy to begin with, but as we fatigue, a common mistake is to arch your back as you lift. This will likely result in a muscle strain of the lower back and is an all too common story we hear from many gardeners that we treat in the clinic.
Limiting the amount of twisting is also vital to your back health. Excessive rotation places undue stress on the lower vertebrae of your back.
Finally, breathing is an often underrated component in a lift sequence. Once you are set in position to lift something, take a breath in to prepare yourself. As you begin to exhale, this is when the lift should be initiated. This allows our core muscles to become engaged as you lift. This last point also links to the importance of a flowing movement as you lift.
Jerking a heavy item is a sure fire way to have an appointment with us come Monday morning!
Proper weeding technique
Again, the secret is in the setup to the movement. Once you have warmed up with some stretching, and a light activity such as raking has been completed, getting into those nasty weeds can commence safely.
Dig around the item you wish to remove as much as possible to loosen it up. You will be thankful for this once you are pulling out weeds! I recommend you regularly alternate your position between:
a) standing and squatting (similar to what we discussed earlier when lifting a heavy object) and
b) if your knees are up to it- kneeling. I have seen quite a few of my fellow gardeners using a foam cushion to kneel on. This would help the longevity in your knees to be in a pressured position for a period of time.
After following my stretches for gardeners, you need to cool down. Whilst it is tempting to go straight to the fridge for a cold beverage once a tough job is complete, spending just 5 minutes cooling down will improve your recovery for the following day.
The list of stretches that we went through for the warm up can be included in your cool down. Furthermore, I would advise a short walk or bike ride to keep those large muscle groups moving freely.
By going through these stretches for gardeners, you will be preventing those nasty back and leg aches post gardening. If symptoms continue by-way-of you are missing gardening sessions, it is best to see us at Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy.
If you are waking up with general stiffness, even after following my guidelines, then my advice would be to seek out one of our excellent massage therapists to alleviate your body’s protests!
Happy gardening to all!