Gardening offers a plethora of health benefits. From breathing in fresh air to absorbing vitamin D from the sun, when you work in the yard, nature works with you. Gardening offers the physical benefits of increased mobility and strength too. It can, however, also bring pain. In fact, while gardening is an activity that most people think of as low-impact, there are many injuries that can occur from weeding and shoveling.
Some of the most common gardening-related injuries are neck pain, shoulder tendonitis, low back pain, lateral epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, de Quervain’s tenosynovitis of the thumb, and prepatellar bursitis. Take heed of the following do’s and don’ts when heading out to the yard.
Do Use Power Tools
Having the right tool for the job is just as important in gardening as when building a shed. Sometimes a more powerful tool not only speeds up the process, but helps keep your body from taking a beating too. For example, choose a power trimmer for branches and large hedges to minimize the repeated motion and above-the-shoulders work of manual hedge trimmers. Or use a power edger instead of relying on the manual rotary edger. If you aren’t comfortable with power tools, it’s a good time to ask a neighbor, friend, or professional to handle the task.
Do Adjust Tools
Most electric and gas or battery-powered edgers, mowers, weed eaters and other implements offer necessary adjustments that can make the tool a lot more comfortable, and safer, to use. For example, a trimmer usually has one adjustment to make the handle longer or shorter and another adjustment for the angle of the handle. Use these to your advantage so that you’re not slouching or overreaching. Use a support strap to bear the weight if available.
DoUse Gardening Aids
The fact that gardening can be hard on the body is nothing new, so many products have been developed to make the job easier. Work smarter, not harder when it comes to gardening with the help of a garden cart instead of a wheelbarrow for light weeds and bark. Use a stool while weeding or trimming plants. Cushion your knees with a gardening pad.
Do Use Proper Posture
Much of the issue with gardening is posture related. For example, bending over on your hands and knees adds stress to the lower back. To avoid this, create raised beds for your garden. Also, use a potting bench or table to plant flowers and divide plants so you can work at standing height. Avoid yanking and jerking motions when using a shovel or pulling weeds, and use caution when twisting, such as when you shovel bark dust from the yard cart to the flower bed.
Do Mix it Up
Be sure to change activities frequently. Spend 20 minutes pulling weeds, then move to an upright activity like pruning the roses. Then move on to mowing or shoveling. Aim to work on three different types of yard work per hour or break between sessions.
Back injuries are a common result of yard work so use extra caution. Avoid bending straight over at the waist. Instead, bend at the knees when you lower to the ground.
Don’t Get into the Repetition
To help prevent repetitive motion injuries and all of the “itis” ailments that come from inflaming one area of the body, be sure to switch from one hand to the other while digging or handling the weed eater. If you’re moving gravel, shovel from right to left and then shovel left to right for a while. Focus on using both sides of the body to alleviate repetition on muscle groups.
Don’t Lift Incorrectly
One wrong lift can cause big problems. We seem to use proper lifting techniques when we expect an item to be heavy, but often injury comes from poor lifting practices even when the item is light. Always bend the knees when lifting. Pull your navel in slightly as you rise. Use gloves to protect your hands. Get a partner for awkward or heavy items. Most of all, know and respect your limits.
Gardening should be an enjoyable experience. Get the job done with the right tools and proper techniques so your yard and your body will thank you.