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Stay Healthy Gardening Tips

Help ensure a healthy and pain free gardening season, especially in the early spring when you first start to tinker, by following these simple tips.

The following guidlines can be easily incorporated into your gardening routine to help you keep a happy, healthy back.

The gardening season begins.

  • Take it slow. Even if you think you are in good shape, slightly different muscle activity can still make you sore. This can be especially true when doing a lot of planting and clean up both at the beginning of the season and in the fall. Remember, general muscle soreness from activity usually gets much better within 2 days. Pain lasting longer with the same intensity or feels worse should be looked at by a health professional to rule out injury.
  • Use the right equipment. Using equipment that properly fits is extremely important. Take necessary precautions for exposure to the sun and wear functional supportive footwear. Orthotic shoe inserts can correct altered foot mechanics and can help prevent foot, ankle, knee, hip, and lower back pain.
  • Eat well and stay hydrated. A well balanced diet can go a long way to providing the needed energy for activity and allow for healthy weight loss as a bonus. Be sure to take in plenty of fluids after any activity, especially when outdoors.

Back Problem Warning Signs

  • Leg pain with numbness, tingling, and/or weakness.
  • Back or leg pain with coughing or sneezing.
  • Difficulty standing up after sitting for any period of time.
  • Stiffness in the morning that decreases when you move around.
  • Pain in your hip, buttock, thigh, knee, or foot.
  • Inability to turn or bend to each side equally.
  • Unbalanced posture, when your head, neck, or shoulder may be higher on one side than the other.
  • Pain which prevents you from sleeping well.
  • Pain that persists or worsens after 48 hours.

Gardening and Yard Work Tips

Walk and Stretch before you start gardening.

Start with a short 10 to 15 minute walk. Maybe check out what your neighbors are putting in their gardens this year and how they are progressing. This gets the blood flowing and muscles more warmed up. When you get back, repeat each exercise below five times. Do not bounce, jerk, or strain. You should experience a gentle stretch of the muscle. Stop if you experience pain.

For your legs.

Thigh stretch. With one hand on the wall or a tree bend your left knee then reach back and hold your ankle with your right hand. If you cannot reach your ankle, put an old necktie or rope loosely around your ankle and hold the ends in your hand in a comfortable position, without creating muscle strain. If you are wearing pants, grab your pant leg. Pull your heel toward your buttocks and hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Relax and repeat with the other leg.

Hamstring stretch. Stand and reach your hands towards the sky. Bend forward at the waist and with both hands reach towards your toes. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, then relax. This stretch can also be done in a seated position with your legs straight and heels resting lightly on a low stool or book.

For your back.

Side stretches. Stand and extend your arms above your head. Knit your fingers together, palms up or by grasping an old necktie or rope if it is more comfortable. Bend from the waist to one side. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Then bend to the other side. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. This stretch can also be done with one arm, alternating between arms.

Back stretch. Sit on a chair and slowly bend your body forward from your hips, putting your head down and resting your hands on the ground. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, then relax.

For your arms and shoulders.

Body hugs. Hug yourself snugly and slowly rotate at the waist as far as comfortable to one side. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Then rotate to the other side and hold for 15 to 20 seconds.

Shoulder rolls. With your arms hanging loosely at your sides, slowly and smoothly rotate your shoulders in a circular motion forward, then backward.

For your wrists.

Wrist extension. Hold one arm straight out in front of you, with the palm flat and facing down. Bend your wrist until the fingers point down toward the ground. Use your opposite hand to hold this position. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat with the other hand.

Wrist flexion. Hold one arm straight out in front of you, with the palm facing out, as if you were giving a stop signal, and use your opposite hand to hold this position. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat with the other hand.

Tried and true safe lifting techniques.

  • Stand close to the load to be lifted.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly forward and your head up.
  • Keep your back straight with your feet and body pointing in the same direction.
  • Squat down to the level of the object and test the weight of the load.
  • Use the strength of your leg and arm muscles to smoothly and slowly lift the load.
  • Keep the load close to your body.
  • Turn to face the intended direction of travel, pivot with your feet, and proceed with the load.
  • Avoid twisting your body while carrying the load.
  • Bend your knees and slowly lower the load to its intended place.
  • Do not lift heavy objects above your waist (see below).
  • Avoid heavy lifting immediately after more than 15 minutes of bending or kneeling.

Is the object to be lifted at or above waist level?

  • Use the buddy system if at all possible.
  • Stand on a secure platform or sturdy ladder with a helper nearby.
  • Slowly lift the load, keeping it close to your body.
  • Pass the load down to your helper, or safely rest the object at a slightly lower level, as you work your way back down to the ground.

Get in the groove with the right tools and moves.

The right moves.

Alternate your tasks. Take turns alternating between heavy chores such as digging and light, less physically demanding tasks such as planting.

Do the scissors when you rake. Raking can put significant strain on your back and arms. So take extra care with this activity. Stand with one leg forward and one leg back when you rake. Switch legs and hands every few minutes. Pause every few minutes to rest and stretch.

Change hands often. Changing hands frequently when you rake, hoe, or dig prevents muscle strain on one side of the body. Stand as straight as possible with your head upright.

Knee to plant and weed. Constant bending can put strain on your back, neck, and leg muscles and joints, so kneeling is recommended. Use kneepads or a kneeling mat with handles to minimize the amount of bending required, and to make kneeling more comfortable.

Change positions frequently. Once you begin, make a point of changing position every 10 to 15 minutes. Move from kneeling to standing, from digging to planting.

Pace yourself. A minimum of 3 brief breaks each hour is recommended. Take a few moments to move around, stretch your muscles, have a drink, or simply sit and enjoy the work you have done. Spread the work over several days. You will still achieve the same great results and your back will really thank you for it!

The right tools.

Lighten your load.

  • A garden hose is easier to manage than a watering can.
  • Invest in a good cart or dolly to make moving heavier loads a breeze.
  • Buy a lightweight wheelbarrow with two wheels for extra stability and control.
  • Break large loads into several smaller units.

Choose well-designed, comfortable tools.

  • Ensure that tools are a comfortable weight and size for you.
  • Select the right tool for the job.
  • Look for ergonomically-designed items with padded handles and spring action mechanisms.
  • Use long-handled, light-weight tools to help you avoid bending and twisting as you work.

Dr. Ormond's 10 General Tips for a Healthy Back

  1. Exercise regularly.
  2. Follow a healthy diet.
  3. Maintain good posture as much as possible.
  4. Do an active warm up before activity and stretch after.
  5. Don't overload your backpack or shoulder bag.
  6. Stretch your legs and back after each hour of sitting.
  7. Never cradle the phone between your neck and shoulder.
  8. Sleep on your back or side, not on your stomach.
  9. Invest in a good chair, pillow and mattress. It's worth it!
  10. Have regular spinal check-ups.

Remember to wear comfortable, thick-soled, protective shoes that support your arches to reduce back pain and aching muscles. Also be sure to take the necessary precautions regarding exposure to the sun and have a great season.

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