This time of year brings me a host of patients who have injured their backs whilst doing the gardening.
We sit around all winter and with the first sign of spring dash out to sort the garden out – spend a productive day sorting out the mess, go inside to have our dinner, then seize up.
The next day we can barely move and our lower back is in agony and away we go to the osteopath.
Yet this is such an easy problem to avoid with a few simple changes to how we do things.
The first thing to do is to take a look at all the jobs that are waiting for you in the garden. I can guarantee that there will be some that require you to kneel, some that require standing and others that demand you lift and move things.
Step one is to plan a ‘round robin’ of tasks that require different postures and spend twenty minutes on each job, gradually getting each job completed over several hours. The commonest mistake I see is one of people focussing on one job, such as weeding a flower bed, and starting it and finishing it all in one go – regardless of time. This may mean someone spends several hours kneeling down, leaning over and reaching across the flower bed.
Now, if you were a professional gardener and used to such work this would be less of a problem but when you are not used to such work there will be enormous strain placed on your body from maintaining a posture for a long period of time. Pressure through your knees and through your flexed lower back with a double whammy on your lower back from the weight of your upper body reaching across to pull weeds up.
The same is true for digging and even more so if most of your life is spent working in a sedentary job.
Therefore, the golden rule is to never spend more than twenty minutes on any one job and after twenty minutes switch to another job that requires a different posture. After twenty minutes in your new posture change again, either back to job number one, or to a new job with a different posture again.
Of course, this requires a little planning and above all else you must think about your body rather than ignoring it to get a job done.
An easy reminder to do this is to set a timer on your phone for twenty minutes and when it goes off you change to job number two, reset the alarm and go again.
Step two in preventing injury in the garden is to make sure you do a warm down after you have finished. This can be some simple leg and whole body stretches such as standing, then bending forward to touch your toes with legs kept straight, or gently rolling your shoulders and arms to release all the muscles that have been working hard. There are a myriad of stretches that are really useful.
Gardening is a physical activity and our body should be gently warmed up and warmed down afterwards to enable it to reset and recover from the work. It may not be a sport but is using your body in a very strenuous way so please stretch it afterwards.
An Epsom salts bath is also useful so add that into your post gardening routine once a week. You can even apply Magnesium oil to any aching muscles and this will also help them recover.
And if the worst comes to the worst there is always your local osteopath to help you out – and if it is me, I will also tell you how to prevent future trouble, the question is…will you heed my advice?