As the weather continues to tease us that Spring is on its way, people will be dusting off their trowels and reaching for their gardening gloves. Be warned though, do proceed with caution.
Would you run a marathon without adequate training, kit and preparation? I suspect not, yet many people venture into the garden unprepared, only to return hours later aching and exhausted!
With a bit of thought and planning, some common gardening injuries can be avoided.
- As with any sporting event, a good warm up is crucial to prepare your body for the task ahead. Build yourself up gradually by brisk walking a few laps of your garden, surveying the scene and assessing the challenges you face whilst at the same time raising your pulse and body temperature!
- Perform some gentle mobilisations: rolling your shoulders and arms backwards; doing some gentle trunk and pelvic rotations; squatting down to the floor with bent knees and a straight back.
- Ensure you have the right equipment for the job. Use long handled tools to avoid excessive bending; use smaller spades to limit the amount of soil you shift in one go; use a wheelbarrow instead of carrying heavy loads; use a ladder to avoid over reaching; use a cushion when kneeling and check all blades are sharpened to enable branches to be cut on the first attempt.
Assessment of task:
- Decide on what you wish to achieve in your gardening session, and break it down into manageable chunks. Consider your current fitness level and set yourself realistic goals.
- Maintain good posture throughout the day. Squat down, bending at the knees; kneel whilst planting or weeding, don’t just bend at your back; keep loads or spades close to your body and avoid twisting. If lifting, face the direction of the load and move your feet to turn, to again avoid twisting. When using a hover mower, push it forwards, don’t twist it side to side. Avoid reaching away from your body or up high. Perform slow deliberate movements and don’t jerk.
- Set a timer to tell you when to have a break, or you may lose track of time and just keep going.
- After you’ve finished, have a gentle walk round whilst admiring your handy work. Do some gentle stretches and mobilisations as before to reduce muscle tightness in the next few days. Roll your foot over a tennis ball to ease tightness in the foot, and bizarrely in the rest of the body too! Lie on your back, knees bent and place the tennis balls in your buttocks to reduce any spasm there.
Back injury – Simple Low Back Pain
What is the injury?
People get backache or Lower Back Pain for a number of reasons…often never known for sure.
It may simply be a matter of the unaccustomed muscles having been overused during the gardening stint and thus producing post-exercise discomfort or “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” (DOMS).
The vertebrae (or bones of the spine) have fluid filled discs between them to absorb shock. Strong ligaments and small joints (facet joints) between each vertebra protect these discs from damage.
Prolonged or repeated forward bending (flexion) puts these discs at risk, can inflame the facet joints or ligaments and can cause the muscles to go into protective spasm, all producing pain for the gardener.
Alternatively, asymmetrical movements or jarring during such activities as digging or weeding can cause the Sacro-Iliac joints of the pelvis to become abnormally rotated. This can in turn cause muscle spasm and pain in the buttocks or lower back region and can compress the sciatic nerve and ultimately produce pain or numbness down the leg.
How is it treated?
Treatment would depend on the cause of the pain, however, as soon as any pain is noted, the gardening should stop to prevent further damage. Good posture should be maintained and a supportive brace may be applied short term, to add some stability to the spine and reduce compressive loads. A heat pack may be administered to reduce any acute muscle spasm, but if any swelling is evident then an ice pack should take its place.
If acute pain is present, then relief may be felt by lying on your back, with hips and knees bent and feet/calves resting up on a stool. You should however try and stay mobile by walking around gently. If pain persists then assessment may be necessary from a qualified physiotherapist.
Once the acute pain has subsided then mobility and dynamic control exercises are crucial to regain normal controlled movement at the spine and pelvis, to regain full nerve mobility and to prevent recurrence.
Gardening posture must be re-educated to avoid the injury happening again. Squatting or kneeling on a cushion should replace bending at the waist; long handled tools should be used; wheel barrows reduce the need for carrying heavy loads; tools should be held close to the body; and taking small steps should replace twisting.
A supportive brace could add stability to the spine and limit the potentially damaging forward flexion movements, but ideally the muscles should provide this control themselves.
Don’t let your first trip to the garden this spring be your only one… Pace yourself, and enjoy a long summer ahead.