As snow melts and the first flowers of the year poke through the ground, many people’s minds – and bodies – turn to their gardens. Anyone who gardens knows that it’s hard work. If you haven’t kept in shape over the winter or if you practice poor body mechanics, you may find yourself with gardening back pain soon into the season.
Though many may not think of gardening as a rigorous activity, it is physically demanding. Digging, weeding and lugging around heavy equipment like hoses and wheelbarrows take a toll on the back. As with any physical activity, avoiding pain and injury requires preparation. To prepare your body for gardening, it is a good idea to do core exercises and pay attention to your body mechanics throughout the day, as well as during gardening activities.
Digging is about leverage; you use your body weight to transfer forces through an object (the shovel) to move another object (dirt). Proper form when digging in the garden not only protects your lower back from strain but also ensures that your energy is being used efficiently. When the spine is straight, the muscles of the core are able to engage and assist the transfer of bodily forces through the shovel.
Aside from efficiency, a straight spine is imperative to preventing lower back strain and possible disc injury. If you round out your lower back by bending at the waist rather than the hips, your back muscles will be overstretched and overworked, since the abdominal muscles will not be able to assist them. It is also possible to sustain injuries to the ligaments that run along the spine, which are overstretched and strained when you bend at the back.
See http://backandneck.about.com for a slideshow depicting proper body mechanics while digging.
As with digging, form is key while weeding. If you’re hunched over the ground on your knees or the balls of your feet, you’re likely bending at the waist. One way to encourage proper posture while weeding is to sit on a bucket or stool. Opening up your legs to provide a wide-legged base will encourage you to keep your buttocks out and your lower back straight. It helps to visualize your hips as a hinge and your upper body as one solid piece.
A strong core will help you keep a neutral spine and transfer your forces effectively while digging, weeding and carrying heavy objects around the garden. See four back pain relief exercises to learn 4 core workouts.
You can search sites like Amazon.com for ergonomic gardening supplies; ergonomic products are designed to reduce strain on the body during their use. Read customer reviews to ensure the product is of high quality.
Finally, if you have a hard time maintaining body awareness throughout the day, you may benefit from the Alexander Technique. This method of retraining movements focuses on maintaining optimal posture and body mechanics with every movement. More on this can be found at www.alexandertechnique.com.
You deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Prevent back pain this gardening season by firming up your core and being aware of your body mechanics.