a couple of years ago

How To Avoid Back Pain While Doing The Gardening

Gardening is a great activity that can bring you so much enjoyment and satisfaction but you need to do things right to keep your back healthy in the yard. 

How To Avoid Back Pain When Doing The Gardening

Gardening is a fantastic hobby to get involved in and once you've got the green-fingered bug there's nothing you'll enjoy more than a day spent pruning, planting and cultivating.

As it's such a great feeling to prepare the ground, plant some seeds and watch them grow from nothing into something beautiful.

And even better if you're growing your own vegetables, fruit and herbs as you'll get to taste the results of your labors too!

Also being in the garden gets you outside in the fresh air and gives you a connection to nature that you may lack otherwise, especially if you live in a big city.

Which is great for the soul and your mental well-being. 

Plus it's really satisfying to have a space that you've created and are proud of that the whole family can enjoy during summer days and evenings.

And the good news is that when it's done right gardening can actually be a great activity for your back as:

  • It's great exercise and staying active in the garden will keep your muscles strong and supple which will give your back better support in your everyday life.
  • Being outside in the fresh air gives you a great source of vitamin D which is good for your overall health and well-being.
  • Getting absorbed in a hobby you love such as gardening is the perfect way to take your mind off pain and this helps to block pain signals from reaching your brain.
  • Planting seeds, watching them grow and nurturing them is really rewarding and a great way to relieve stress, which helps you to relax and reduce tension in your body.

However, it can also be a complete disaster for your body if you make some of the common mistakes that people tend to make in the garden.

So if you don't want gardening to become back breaking work (literally!) have a read through the following tips.

As these will all help you to keep your back as healthy and happy in the yard as you are.

RELATED: Gift Ideas For Gardeners With Back Pain

Warm Up Before You Begin

Gardening can be a pretty full on activity as it involves bending, twisting and squatting as well as powerful movements such as digging, lifting, raking and hoeing.

And this can really take a toll on your body.

So you need to treat it in the same way as you would if you were taking on any intense form of exercise.

And one of the best and most important things you can do is to warm you body up beforehand.

As this way your muscles are loose and raring to go before you even think about picking up a shovel.

The best way to do this is with a set of dynamic stretches (such as the ones in the video above) as they will get your blood flowing, boost your heart rate and prepare your cold muscles for what's to come.

And by stretching before you start gardening you are also making your body more flexibility which will reduce strain and tension on your back.

While also making gardening injuries such as strains and pulls much less likely.

You especially need to work on keeping your hamstrings and hips loose as this will greatly reduce the pressure on your lower back.

And going for a little walk around the yard first can also be a good way to get your body moving before the heavy work begins. 

Keep Your Core Muscles Strong

Having a strong core is vital if you're going to avoid back pain in the garden.

Because it's your deep lying core muscles that will support and protect your back while you're carrying out any strenuous tasks and powerful movements.

And this is crucial while gardening to help you when digging, lifting or even mowing the lawn.

Also, engaging your core muscles as you work in the garden will help you to maintain a healthy and balanced posture that takes pressure off your back.

So make core strengthening exercises like the ones in the video above a part of your regular exercise routine.

And get involved in activities such as yogapilates, and swimming that can also keep your core muscles strong. 

As this will greatly reduce the chance of any injuries and keep any gardening related back pain to a minimum.

Make Sure You Lift Correctly

Lift safely to protect your back

When you're working in the garden you're going to have to do a fair amount of lifting.

As you'll be picking up rocks and stones, moving potted plants of all shapes and sizes, and lugging bags of soil and fertiliser.

And the problem with this is that most of the loads you lift will be heavy, unruly and awkward and they can move and shift as you carry them.

This can force you to do so with an awkward posture that puts extra strain on your lower back and can easily lead to injuries.

So you need to make sure you are lifting things safely and correctly to protect your back in the garden by: 

  • Getting yourself into a stable position before you lift where you posture is strong and balanced.
  • Keeping your feet about shoulder width apart and placing one foot slightly in front of the other and beside the load you're lifting.
  • Make sure you look forward and keep your back straight, bend with the knees and squat down next to the load.
  • Get a good grip then keeping your back straight and looking forward slowly lift the load by straightening your legs and hips.
  • Remember to exhale and engage your core muscles as you lift to help protect, stabilise, and support your back.
  • Keep the load close to your waist with the heaviest part closest to you as this will reduce the amount of pressure on your back.
  • Also remember to keep your movements smooth as you lift, as jerky and rushed movements can lead to pulled muscles.
  • Don't twist while lifting, instead lift fully first then turn with your feet keeping your hips and shoulders facing the same way.
  • And don't lift loads that are too heavy - you're not superman and your back will remind you of this if you forget!
  • Lastly be careful how you put the load down too. Basically use the safe lifting technique but in reverse.

By following these lifting tips you stand a much better chance of keeping your back healthy in the garden.

And another thing that can help is to wear a back support belt when lifting heavy loads.

As this compresses your abdomen and assists your core muscles in supporting and protecting your back as you lift.

Use A Wheelbarrow Rather Than Carrying Heavy Loads

Use a wheelbarrow to give your back a break

It's one thing being able to lift a heavy load safely.

But when you also need to carry it across the yard it can cause you problems and put major stress onto your lower back muscles.

So why put your body under this extra pressure when you have an easy alternative available?

Because using a wheelbarrow or a garden cart instead can save you so much time, energy and effort.

And this can make a huge difference to your enjoyment levels in the garden and make moving pots, plants and soil a breeze.

Just make sure you don't overload your wheelbarrow as this makes it harder to push and could lead to it tipping over which can cause injury.

Also be careful with your back when unloading it and do as follows:

  • When tipping use an underhand grip and lift from underneath.
  • Engage your core muscles, bend from the knees, keep your back straight and use your leg muscles to lift it up.
  • Once you have the wheelbarrow raised keep your back straight and lean into it using your body weight to tilt it forward and empty it.

Use A Hose Instead Of A Watering Can

Using a hose can save your back some effort

When you think of someone tending to their garden you picture someone walking around the yard with a watering can and giving their plants some love.

However, when full of water a watering can can be heavy.

And carrying all this weight around with you on one side of your body can really unbalance you and put a lot of pressure and strain onto you back muscles.

So if you have the option of using a hosepipe to water the plants instead then take it.

As this takes away the need to carry any weight and will make life in the garden a whole lot easier on your body.

However, if using a hosepipe isn't possible or if you just love your watering can too much to stop using it there is another way to protect yourself.

And that is to fill two watering cans to carry around at the same time.

This way you can carry them both and keep your body balanced as you walk around.

Just be careful to alternate which one you use each time to make sure they both have similar amounts water in and weigh the same.

Also Make Sure You Dig And Shovel Correctly

Make sure you're digging and shoveling correctly

Digging out flower beds and shoveling soil involve powerful movements that can really take it out of your body.

And both can lead to back pain if you're not doing them correctly.

So the first thing you need to do is to hold your spade or shovel the right way.

Because if you have both hands close together at the handle all the strain will transfer to your lower back.

So instead keep your hands about 12" apart with one hand on the handle and the other closer to the blade.

This puts you in a much more balanced position and lowers the chance of injuring your back as the pressure from the load is spread evenly.

And you also need to get your digging and shoveling postures right to keep your back healthy in the garden.

So as a guide when digging you should:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and have your shoulders and hips facing towards your spade.
  • Keep the head of the spade standing straight at a 90 degree angle from the ground with your feet close by and the handle in front of you.
  • Keep your back straight and use your body weight to push down with one foot centered on the blade.
  • Once the blade is in the the ground step back with one foot.
  • Now engage your core muscles, bend your knees and squat down with your legs apart, but remember to keep you back straight while doing so.
  • Use the momentum of this movement to lift the head of the spade out of the ground with your load.
  • Now keeping your back straight, lift from the legs until you are in a standing position.
  • If you need to throw the load off to the side turn your body to face that way first using your feet rather than twisting.

And when shoveling you should:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and have your shoulders and hips facing towards the load.
  • Keep your knees bent, back straight and push from the the handle.
  • Shift your weight from your back leg to your front leg rather than bending at the waist.
  • Now engage your core muscles, bend your knees and squat down with your legs apart, but remember to keep you back straight while doing so.
  • With a straight back lift from the legs until you are in a standing position.
  • If you need to throw the load off to the side turn your body to face that way using your feet rather than twisting.

Follow these posture tips and you can really take the strain out of yard work.

Be Mindful Of Your Posture

I've already mentioned the importance of maintaining a good posture when lifting, digging and shoveling.

And it's just as important while doing other gardening tasks such as planting, weeding, raking and mowing the lawn.

Because when you hold your body in an awkward posture the force of gravity puts pressure on your joints, muscles and ligaments.

This will cause certain parts of your body (and especially your back) to carry far too much of the burden leaving you feeling stiff, sore and in pain.

And this is a big problem in the garden as you will always be twisting, bending and reaching for things.

So you need to stay mindful of your posture and make sure your body is remaining balanced as you go.

As this will spread the pressure evenly and help you to avoid any unnecessary aches and pains afterwards.

So a couple of tips to follow are:

  • Don't bend with your back, do so with your knees and hips instead.
  • Keep your back straight instead of rounding it when leaning forward.
  • Change position often to release any tension that has built up within your body.
  • Don't overreach for things as this can put a strain on your back and cause muscle pulls and strains.
  • Don't twist too often, turn your whole body as one instead when you need to face another direction.

And on top of leaving you with less back pain.

Gardening with a healthy posture also allows you to work more efficiently and use less energy which helps to prevent muscle fatigue.

And this will greatly reduce the risk of injuring yourself in the yard.

Use A Stool Or Kneeling Pad Instead Of Bending Over

Use a kneeling pad or stool when weeding

Powerful movements such as digging and lifting can be a big cause of back pain in the garden.

But a lot of those aches and pains also come from work done at the ground level.

Because when weeding, planting or tending to the turf we can get into bad habits where we are constantly bending forward with a rounded back.

And this is really bad news.

As it puts so much strain on your lower back and if you do this day in and day out then you're just asking for a back injury.

So a good way to reduce the need for bending while carrying out these tasks is by using a stool or kneeling pad.

As not only will these keep you more comfortable and greatly reduce the amount of effort and energy you're using. 

They'll also take the strain and pressure off your back and legs while you're working away.

And you could get yourself a pair of knee pads to wear as an alternative if you're going to be moving around a lot rather than having to carry a foam pad with you.

Consider Switching To Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening reduces the need for bending

Gardening at ground level gets more difficult the older we get even with a stool or kneeling pad.

As you may find that sitting down that low just isn't comfortable any more.

Or maybe you get pain in your knees that makes kneeling on even the softest of pads still a problem.

So a good way to protect yourself and your back is to switch to vertical gardening instead.

This includes things like wall gardens, hanging flower pots, and climbing plants

As this will mean you can work away while standing which takes away the need for most of the bending, crouching and twisting that can cause pain.

Or you could opt to use raised beds which will limit how far down you have to go to do your garden work.

You can even get these beds in containers raised to waist height so you can garden completely standing up.

So both of these options are good for taking some of the strain out of gardening for both your back and your knees.

Which is great especially as you approach your senior years.

Wear Supportive Gardening Boots

Get yourself a pair of gardening boots that are supportive and cushioning

What you wear on your feet when gardening has a big part to play in keeping your back healthy.

This is because your feet are the shock absorbers for your whole body.

So when you're on your feet all day carrying out the powerful movements involved in gardening you need to be doing so in a pair of boots that are both cushioning and supportive.

Otherwise the shocks will reverberate up your body and put a lot of pressure and strain onto your joints and lower back.

So make sure you are wearing a pair of boots to garden in that have good arch support and cushioning qualities.

And also make sure they fit well and are comfortable to wear.

As this will help you to maintain a healthy and balanced posture as you work in the garden, spreading the pressure evenly across your body.

And finally you want boots that have a good grip so you can get decent purchase when digging and can avoid any slips and falls.

Oh and they need to be waterproof and high enough to keep out the water and dirt as well!

But finding the right pair could make a big difference to how your back feels and at the very least will make you more comfortable while gardening.

Use Long Handled Gardening Tools

Long handled tools can stop the need for bending

The tools you use in the garden play a big part in your posture and how much work your back has to do.

As some can force you into awkward working positions that are only going to strain your back and lead to pain.

So a good tip to avoid back pain in the garden is to use long handled tools instead.

As you can find long handled versions of rakes, hoes, brooms, spades, shovels and cultivators among other things.

And using these tools stop you from bending over so much while gardening, keeping your back straight and protecting it in the process.

They also tend to be lightweight too which makes them easier to use and in the case of shovels means the loads you lift will be lighter and easier on your back.

So being able to keep a straighter back, better posture, less bending and lighter loads all make using long handled tools a great thing to do to keep your back healthy and free from pain.

Take Breaks & Don't Overdo It

take regular breaks when gardening

Gardening can be hard work and the repetitive motions involved mean your body can take a bit of a hammering if you're not careful.

Which means it's important to pace yourself and not overdo things.

So try to take a 5 minute break every half an hour to give yourself a chance to catch your breath, regain some energy and let everything settle down.

As this will give your muscles and joints a chance to relax and release any tension that has built up.

And to help this further have a little stretch of any areas that feel a bit tight or painful.

Counter stretches (ie bending backwards if you've been bending forwards a lot) are especially helpful as they help to keep your body well balanced.

And finally use your break time to take on some fluids as this will bring you many benefits as I'll explain next.

Stay Hydrated

Make sure you drink plenty of water when gardening

It's easy to become dehydrated when working in the garden, especially in warm weather.

However, this can be dangerous for your back as the spinal discs that help to support the spine are made up mostly from water.

These discs work as shock absorbers cushioning and supporting your back as you work away in the garden.

But they lose some of this water throughout the day which they need to replenish as they go to stay healthy.

So when you become dehydrated your spinal discs can't restore themselves as they need to.

And as a result they can shrink which means your back receives less support and protection.

This puts more pressure on your back as you work away in the yard and can cause inflammation, muscle and joint stiffness, and irritation in the nerves.

Which will leave you feeling sore and in pain if you're not careful.

So make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your hydration levels topped up and your discs and muscles healthy.

And this will also have the added benefit of giving you more energy so you'll be able to get more done in the garden too.

Warm Down Afterwards

After a strenuous day in the garden your body has gone through a pretty tough workout.

And you'll probably feel that satisfying ache in your muscles that they get when you've put them through their paces.

However, to give yourself the best chance of recovering quickly you need to carry out some cool down stretches.

As this will help to release any muscle tension and prevent the build up of lactic acid that can you leave you feeling stiff and sore.

And getting into the habit of doing this after a day in the garden will also keep you flexible and prevent any muscle imbalances from forming.

Which will go a long way in relieving any back pain from gardening.

Another good idea to help your muscles to relax and recover is to have a nice hot shower to invigorate them.

And if you have a bath at home then a nice hot soak in it can also do your back the world of good.

As the moist heat can penetrate deep into your sore body, soothing and relaxing your muscles and mind after a hard day in the yard.

And it increases your circulation too which helps your body to deliver the oxygen and nutrients around to your aching muscles that they need to heal and repair.

This effect is even greater if you add some epsom salts to the bath water.

As they contain magnesium sulfate which helps to soothe and relieve stiff joints and muscles even further.

If All Else Fails Hire A Professional

Get the pros in to do the garden

If you've tried everything on this list and your back is still causing you problems then unfortunately you may have to start listening to it.

But that doesn't mean you can no longer enjoy your garden.

It just means that the heavy work may be beyond you now.

So why not get someone in to do the grunt work such as weeding, raking, digging, lifting and moving things?

As this will leave you to focus on the less intense and more creative stuff like planting the seeds, nurturing them as they grow, keeping them watered, etc.

This way you can still enjoy the buzz of gardening but without any annoying nagging pain in your back.

So this may be something to consider rather than having to give it up altogether.

Rounding Up

Gardening is a lovely activity that can bring you so much enjoyment and satisfaction.

And it can also be great for keeping you fit and healthy.

However, if you're not careful it can lead to to back pain as the intensity of yard work can take it's toll on your body.

So try to incorporate the tips I've gone over in this article that will all help you to avoid falling foul to this pain.

And be able to keep your back in as good a condition as you do your garden.

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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