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Gardening Tips to Save Your Back and Knees this Spring

As the weather warms up many of us come out of hibernation. Spending time in the garden is a wonderful way to enjoy the sunshine and the outdoors. As Kiwis we love our gardens and Spring is the perfect time to dive back in to this favoured past time.

However – as a Physio I can tell you that gardening does come with it’s downside….aches, pains and at worst – Injuries! Every year at this time of year I see an increase in knee and lower back pain from gardeners as they venture out in to the back yard.

There are things you can do though to keep yourself safe as you weed, dig, mulch and mow this spring. Here are my 10 top tips:

  1. Know your limits of what you can lift For large loads such as a bag of mulch, use a wheelbarrow to move it around. If you don’t have a wheelbarrow, then open the bag and shovel out a bucket-full of material that you can easily carry. It will take more time and mean more trips, but it will save you injuring your back.
  2. Use Your Legs. It’s an old adage – “Don’t use your back like a crane”. This is never more true than in the garden. Squat down or kneel when weeding instead of bending from the spine. Pulling from a bent spine can cause lower back pain. Likewise bending over for long periods of time can be as bad for you as sitting slumped in a chair! When removing large roots be sure to use your legs to pull not your back. If digging, then use your legs and stand with a wide base of support in a squatting position to protect your back. Your large leg and butt muscles are designed for this!! Not your back!!
  3. Take your Time Avoid long stints of digging and bending over in the garden. It is better to break up your gardening tasks in to smaller jobs and spread them out over a period of time rather than try and get it all done in one day. Allow your muscles to rest and recover.
  4. Vary Tasks in the Garden Vary tasks frequently to avoid “overusing” any one particular part of your body. Change from activities that require kneeling such as weeding, to trimming taller plants/shrubs that require standing.
  5. Use a Potting Bench When working with plant containers and pots, use a bench that allows you to stand comfortably and work with pots at around waist height.
  6. Use a Kneeler or Kneeling Cushion The best position for your back while weeding is to kneel. However this can be a killer on your knees. Protect your knees by using a Garden Kneeler or kneeling cushions or kneeling pads
  7. Take Breaks and Stretch As you spend a lot of time bending over in the garden, it is important to take a break every 30-40 minutes and stretch your back in the opposite direction. Lying on your tummy and pushing up through your arms (see below) and repeat for 2 sets of 10 repetitions. Alternatively do the same thing in standing (see below)
  8. Use Appropriate Tools Using appropriate tools is essential! This includes spades with the right length handles, wheelbarrows, long handled hand held tools where appropriate. This will prevent you bending unnecessarily and further straining your knees and back. Decent footwear is also essential while gardening as you end up spending a lot of time on your feet. Inappropriate footwear can contribute to knee pain so ensure you wear shoes that fit well and have an arch support.
  9. Drink Water This will keep you hydrated and your joints and connective tissues lubricated
  10. Breathe Last but not least, enjoy the outdoors. Breathe in the fresh air and keep your body and mind refreshed!