Gardening: Tips and Tricks for Spinal Health

It’s that time of year again when the weather is warming and everything is growing, and many of us are spending a lot of time out in our yards gardening. How can we take care of our gardens while also protecting our backs?

Understanding the basic principles of proper body mechanics is crucial. One definition of body mechanics is "the study of proper body movement to prevent and correct posture problems, reduce stress and enhance physical capabilities." In regards to spinal health, this means using your body in such a way that poor spinal positioning is minimized and a neutral spine position is supported, thus reducing the stress on our backs.

The American Physical Therapy Association gives these tips to help minimize aches and pains in the garden:

1. Get moving before you garden.

10 minute brisk walk and stretches for the spine and limbs are good ways to warm up.

2. Change positions frequently to avoid stiffness or cramping.

Be aware of how your body feels as you work in your garden. If a part of your body starts to ache, take a break, stretch that body part in the opposite direction it was in, or switch to a different gardening activity. For example, if you've been leaning forward for more than a few minutes, and your back starts to ache, slowly stand up, and gently lean backwards a few times.

3. Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move heavy planting materials or tools.

Lift with your knees and use good posture while moving a cart or wheelbarrow.

4. Give your knees a break.

Use knee pads or a gardening pad. If kneeling or leaning down to the ground causes significant pain in your back or knees, consider using elevated planters to do your gardening. If kneeling on both knees causes discomfort in your back, try kneeling on one and keep the other foot on the ground.

5. Maintain good posture.

Use good body mechanics when you pick something up or pull on something, such as a weed. Bend your knees, tighten your abdominals, and keep your back straight as you lift or pull things. Avoid twisting your spine or knees when moving things to the side; instead, move your feet or pivot on your toes to turn your full body as one unit.

6. Take breaks.

If you haven't done gardening or other yard work in a while, plan to work in short stints, building in time for breaks before you start feeling aches and pains.

7. Keep moving after you garden.

End your gardening session with some gentle backward bending of your low back, a short walk and light stretching, similar to stretches done before starting.

And don’t forget to hydrate! Hydration before, during and after activity is key in minimizing muscle cramping and soreness. Also, if you keep your water bottle at least a few steps away, your water break will give you not only the necessary fluid replenishment, but also will allow you to stand up, straighten your spine and move... always a good thing.

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