Whilst it may not feel like it, spring is just around the corner. Many argue it’s their favourite season, following the darkness and cold of winter. Spring can represent fresh, new beginnings and hopefully the start of warmer times. Which leads many of us (amateurs!) out into to the garden for the first time in many months to survey and rectify the neglect that winter brings. This can be an interesting (and somewhat predictable) time for osteopaths. The conversation is usually along the following lines:
Osteopath: “Tell me how I can help you today?”
Patient: “It’s my lower back – it is very stiff and painful.”
Osteopath: “When and how did it start?”
Patient: “It was at the weekend, but I’m not really sure why.”
Osteopath: “So you haven’t been doing anything different lately?”
Patient: “No, not really. Oh, I was out in the garden on Saturday.”
Osteopath: “What did you do in the garden?”
Patient: “I spent the day digging the flower beds …. oh, and I mowed the lawn.”
Osteopath: “When was the last time you were out in the garden before that?”
Patient: “Hmmm … last Autumn. Ah, I can see where you’re going with this.”
The point we’re trying to make here is that, when full of the joys of spring, we can put great (unusual) strain on our body without even considering how long it has been since we last did such demanding work.
Here are 6 helpful tips to better prepare yourselves:
- Warm Up
As with any vigorous exercise, we should always warm up first to reduce potential muscle strain and injury. Take a few minutes before your gardening sessions to gently stretch your neck, shoulders, arms, legs and back muscles.
If possible, choose long-handled gardening tools to avoid prolonged bending and/or over-reaching. Lightweight materials generally enforce less stress on the body. Modern, ergonomically-designed gardening tools also accommodate people of different shapes and sizes. Try to keep tools sharp as blunt tools put more strain through the hands, wrists and arms.
- Mix it up
If you have a long day planned in the garden, try to mix up and vary your activities. Try rotating between jobs every 30 minutes (e.g. weeding, pruning and digging), thereby completing your jobs over the whole day, rather than finishing one and moving on to the next after a few hours. The regular change in position and carefully selected tools should reduce the risk of over-straining any one part of your body.
- Bending and lifting
Where possible always try to find someone to help with heavy loads (20-25kg is considered heavy for most people). Try to lift in front as opposed to twisting or bending to one side and always bend from your knees and hips with a wide stance. Aim to limit over-reaching by keeping your back as straight as possible and position yourself close to your work and any load that is to be lifted. Also, consider using a tool belt for hand tools as this can prevent repetitive bending down to retrieve them from the ground.
- Down on the ground
Avoid standing and bending from the waist. Where possible, kneel on both knees or sit. It is possible to buy a wide range of kneelers that double up as seats – contrary to popular belief, they aren not just for the elderly! Swap hands regularly to reduce prolonged stress on one side.
- Digging, raking and sweeping
Use a split stance for all activities and try to keep the tool close and in front of you. If you need to turn (e.g. moving earth and leaves) try to use your feet and turn your whole body as opposed to the lower back in isolation.
If you try to follow some of these simple tips the garden will hopefully remain a pleasure and not a painful chore throughout the (hopefully) sunny and warm months of the year!
If you do encounter any un-resolving, garden-related aches and pains, please contact us at Woburn Osteopaths: [email protected] / 01525 290615.