Fit for the Garden

Now is the perfect time to get your hands dirty while doing some gardening.Gardening can be a powerful mental health tool as you practice some “horticultural therapy”. But, did you know that gardening can also create a host of injuries if you don’t preparer for it? The best way to prevent injuries while gardening is to make a schedule, decide how long you plan to spend int he garden and follow that time limit.

Divide your tasks to create a gardener’s cross-training program. Each task should include a variety of muscle groups or muscle actions. For example, raking, planting, carrying a wheelbarrow and pruning each work different muscle groups or require different muscle actions.

The best action plan is to vary the workload, say 10 minutes of pruning, followed by 10-15 minutes of weeding, then 10-15 minutes of digging before going back to pruning. This activity cycle works different body parts and provides necessary rest that will help prevent aggravating an old strain.

Examples of injuries that can develop from overuse include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from prolonged pruning, rotator cuff or shoulder strain from excessive raking, or a meniscus tear of the knee from squatting when planting or weeding. Switching between job tasks and planning out a schedule are vital to avoiding these and other injuries.

When you stay in good physical shape, you can enjoy an active gardening season. If you are not as active or as strong as you would like, then plan shorter gardening sessions. Gradually increase your level or length of activity. Regular gardening tasks can provide the same health benefits you receive from a brisk walk. Lifting and bending can build same strength and endurance when performed within your physical limits.

Using proper tools is another way to avoid injuries in the garden. When pruning, make sure your blades are clean, sharp, and the proper length for your situation. A tool extension may be needed to avoid reaching beyond your limits or twisting your back. Foam padding, or small benches with handles that are used on the ground are effective in avoiding knee strains or sprains.

Even kneepads, used by athletes and laborers, are just as effective. Gloves help your hands and wrists when using rakes, shovels, or shears. They help fight hand fatigue, eliminate friction and reduce vibration. You can use traditional cotton gloves or high-tech utility gloves, which are excellent for rough-handling tasks.

A proper warm-up is essential for avoiding muscle strains. A brisk walk around the garden followed by a few stretches can greatly decrease your risk of injury. One effective warm-up exercise is to sit on the front stop and reach forward, sliding your hands down your shins. Then tuck your head, thereby stretching all your back muscles.

Another good exercise is to stand up, place your hands in the small of your back and bend backwards from the waist, without tipping your head back. A third stretch involves standing still and clasping and reaching your hands forward as if you are rounding your upper back while bringing your chin to your chest. All stretches are most effective if held for 5-10 seconds compared with a quick movement lasting only 1-2 seconds. Other tips that protect your back include:

  • Bending your knees and allowing your thigh muscles to make the effort instead of your low back structure.
  • Remaining straight by not twisting your waist while holding a load. Use your entire body to turn by small-stepping the load to round yourself.
  • Bending your knees when lifting or lowering an object to the ground.

A gardener’s plan for good health should include physical conditioning, proper warm-up, a work schedule that sets time limits, a mix of activities to work different muscles groups and the proper tools for the job. Remember, don’t hesitate, participate