Smart Gardening- Pull Your Weeds Out; Not your Back
Twenty Eight Ways To Save Your Back And Body When Doing Yard Work
Well, it’s now Spring and the gardening season is in full swing. If you are like most of us, you get out there and overdo it, then pay for it the next day. Worse yet, you could find yourself paying much longer than that due to a muscle spasm or strain. To help you avoid this I have compiled some tips here to help you keep your yard and gardens in order without incident. Much of this is common sense, but that seems in short supply when you just have one free evening to work at your garden, so check out these tips before you get too carried away.
- Avoid doing any one task for long, uninterrupted periods. If you must do only one task, take frequent rests and alternate between using your right side and left side.
- Vary your tasks. For example turn soil for a while, and then do some planting, weeding or lawn maintenance. Remember, variety is the cornerstone of ergonomics.
- When you rake, do the scissors. Stand with your right leg forward and your left leg back, then switch every few minutes. This will keep you from bending and twisting your back. Change hands frequently. This prevents muscle strain on one side of the body.
- Use long-handed tools. These implements let you avoid bending forward and sideways as you work.
- Wider handles (1 1/2 inches in diameter) reduce hand strain for most people.
- You can purchase cushiony, textured grips to slip over many garden utensils. These require less grip effort on your part and reduce contact pressures on your hands.
- When you work, keep your wrist as close as possible to its neutral position, the position it’s in when you’re not using your hand. If your wrist is bent in any other direction, you have less strength and are more prone to injury.
- When shovelling, lift using the muscle power of your legs, not your back (as in Figure 1).
- Never twist your body when shovelling or lifting heavy items. Reposition your feet instead.
- Preferred work positions include sitting on a pad (or stool), or having one knee on the ground (alternating knees regularly).
- If you must kneel, use a kneeling pad, strap-on kneepads, or pants with padded knees.
- One product to aid you in sitting/kneeling is The Gardener’s Kneeler available at Canadian Tire stores. It has a seat on one surface but becomes a padded kneeling support if flipped over.
- Use a dolly or wheelbarrow for hauling heavy objects, bagged materials or landscaping items. Always load materials toward the front of the wheelbarrow, using your legs to lift.
- Always squat when you lift, so your legs do most of the work. Grasp objects while squatting (as in Figure 2), and then lift them by raising your entire body, keeping your weight balanced on both legs. Follow these steps when about to make a heavy lift. Stand the object upright – position feet shoulder-width apart close to the object – squat or bend at the knees – tighten stomach muscles – roll the object onto bent knees and then up into arms – hold the object close to your body so that the thigh muscles are doing most of the work – slowly lift by straightening knees. Lower loads by reversing this process.
- Whenever possible, find someone to assist you with lifting, pushing, or pulling.
- Adjust mower handle height to hip level and push mower with your legs, maintaining a good, upright posture.
- Buying soil amendments in extra-large bags may mean savings in the pocket but not for the back. Choose smaller bags (with handles if possible).
- A garbage pail on wheels can be rolled around with you to save steps, or use a lawn & garden bag holder.
- Take a break to stretch your back every 15 to 30 minutes when planting, weeding or digging in the soil. Stand up slowly, take several deep breaths and place your hands on your upper buttocks while slowly arching backwards (as in Figure 3). If your lower back begins to bother you, do a few sloppy push-ups (also shown in Figure 3) to avoid a back spasm.
- If you do feel a muscle twinge, don’t ignore it. Stop doing whatever started the pain in the first place, and then ease yourself into a comfortable position.
- As the day wears on and you get tired, you are more likely to injure yourself. Know when to call it quits.
Other Tips Include
- Drink plenty of fluids while you work.
- Take a short walk at the end of your gardening stint.
- Use ground covers or mulch to reduce weeds.
- Raised beds can reduce a lot of bending.
- If possible, garden during the morning or later afternoon, when the sun’s rays are not directly overhead.
- Wear sunscreen or use a hat or scarf to shield your face and neck from the sun’s rays.
- Consider hiring a student to help you with some of your yard and garden work.
I know that it’s tempting to do extreme gardening by trying to get all of your beds in order in one evening or afternoon, but perhaps it’s time to consider a different approach this year. Alternatively you can ignore all this advice and just call me the next day…business has been a bit slow recently!