When planning your garden, consider creating a work area with a table or workbench, which will reduce the need for bending when sowing seeds and enable you to store heavy items like compost in one place so you won’t need to keep moving it. Raised beds are a great investment; plan the width so you can access all areas of the bed from each side. You could consider adding a handrail to the side of your raised bed to help you move or balance, or incorporate recesses into the design so you can work at the bed sitting down, facing forward to avoid twisting, with space for your legs to fit comfortably underneath. Another option would be a large raised container; some containers are crib shaped which allow for easier manoeuvrability around them. If your hands are arthritic you may find it beneficial to wear good quality waterproof, warm gardening gloves. Some gloves have irregular ridges and an uneven texture which will improve your grip. Before launching into a prolonged episode of gardening, do some lighter tasks in order to prepare the muscles for the work they are about to do. If you only planned to clear some weeds, go for a short walk first to warm up the muscles.
TOP TIPS • Prepare: be properly equipped and attired • Select tools that are the right size, height and weight for you • Look for tools with rubber grips • Plan your session • Warm up • Think about your posture • Use kneepads or a kneeler. Kneelers with handles that double up as a stool are available. • Brace abdomen when bending, stooping or lifting. • Carry close to the body (smaller lighter loads are preferable) • Take regular breaks • Warm down • Rest and enjoy. May 2014
Rotate through tasks so you don’t spend all day in one particular posture. Change activity every 20-30 minutes and take regular breaks. Don’t garden to the point of exhaustion. Try to stop with enough energy to warm down (or potter about) with some tidying up. That way when you finally get to stop and admire your handiwork your joints won’t seize up. The simplest and most effective way to protect the spine whilst bending and lifting is to learn to brace the abdomen so while you are bent, stooped or lifting your spine is supported by its own protective brace. The closer our core or centre is to the task in hand, the less strain is put on the joints. Keep yourself well aligned. Wherever possible keep shoulders and hips lined up (think of a fencer as he prepares to fight). A lunging position is useful when you need to bend. Lunge forward and rest a knee on a knee pad, keeping the other leg bent at 90 degrees (Anna calls this the proposal position – down on one knee!). Once in this position one can reach down or forwards whilst keeping the spine in a protected neutral position. It’s also easier to get up from this position. Here are some gardening jobs you could be doing now: • It’s the ideal time to plant up hanging baskets and containers. Avoid straining your back or body by positioning your containers or hanging baskets in the area you want to display them before you start to plant them up. Consider working at a table or workbench to keep the container at a safer height. Larger containers will require less frequent watering than smaller ones. • Apply a lawn feed if you haven’t already done so. Remove perennial weeds with a daisy grubber or knife. If you have a hover mower use a forwards and backwards motion, avoid the temptation to swing the mower from side to side. • Water newly planted trees or shrubs regularly if the weather is dry. Give your plants a really good soaking to encourage the roots to grow deeply into the soil. When you lift a heavy bag of compost or carry a watering can keep the arms bent and close to the body, so that you control the weight you are carrying and put less strain through arms, shoulders and spine. Remember to brace the abdomen whilst carrying a heavy load. Beth Otway is a horticulturalist and gardening evangelist and Anna Maynard was awarded a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) in 2000. Many thanks to the models above, Nicola Cozens and www.renatodefazio.co.uk, demonstrating how to garden safely.
FIND OUT MORE
For more information see our fact sheet – Preparing for Gardening at www.chiropractic-healthcentre.com.
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