Spring Gardening… A safe sport?
The nation’s gardeners will come out of the woodwork over the next few weeks as the gardening season sets in. But what are the physical effects of getting the garden smartened up for summer? Nick Metcalfe, our sports chiropractor, talks about how to avoid injuries such as gardeners’ back, weeder’s wrist and pruner’s neck?
At this time of year the number of people attending our clinic with gardening-related ailments is often higher than injuries associated with football, tennis or cricket. Lower back pain takes the gold medal as the most common injury attending the clinic, but knee injuries, neck pain and wrist pain follow close behind.
It is common to get a flurry of emergency appointments on a Monday morning after a sunny weekend, followed by a trickle of more chronic complaints thereafter. These ‘weekend warriors’ have often jumped straight into the garden when the weather warms up but have forgotten that their own bodies need a warm-up too.
Gardening can rightly be viewed as a fantastic form of exercise as it can help improve flexibility, stamina, strength and circulation, but it must be performed safely. Many people wouldn’t think twice about spending the first warm day of Spring digging, mowing and weeding in the garden but would you spend five hours in the gym doing squats and lunges if you hadn’t been exercising for six months?
Every year we chiropractors prepare ourselves for these gardening related injuries, but the majority of them are totally preventable:
Top Tips for avoiding injury in the Garden this Spring
- Dress appropriately. Don’t wear clothes that are tight or constrict your movement.
- Gardening is like any other exercise; you need to warm up first. Don’t go straight into tackling digging up the patio, start off with lighter jobs first. The British Chiropractic Association support “Straighten-Up UK” an excellent 5 minute warm up routine to reduce the likelihood of back pain. It can be found on their website www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk
- Clever pruning. Get as close as possible to the things you are pruning; avoid overstretching to reach the area you are dealing with. Invest in some long handled secateurs to reach plants and bushes that are beyond normal reach.
- Digging deep. When digging, try not to bend or twist during the movement and alternate the foot you use to drive the spade into the ground. Raking is best achieved with short movements; don’t reach out too far and swap the sides you use.
- Potting/planting. Use a mat and kneel when doing close weeding work. When potting up your plants, it is much better to do this at a table and, if at all possible, sit.
- Vary your activity. Split your tasks into 1) tasks below knee height, 2) tasks at waist height, 3) tasks above shoulder height. Spend no more than 20-30 minutes on any one area. Take regular breaks. Alternate different tasks.