How to Avoid Lower Back Pain From Gardening
Do you love gardening, but end up suffering with lower back pain or joint pain after it?
You aren’t the only avid gardener with this issue.
I get to see it often in Spring and Summer times.
A common cause of lower back pain is when people get outside to make the garden look good during nice weather days. Whilst the sun is out the urge to get out & pick out the weeds, turn the flower beds or cut back the hedges is so tempting.
It is unfortunate that too many people end up suffering, to some degree, by doing a hobby they love, like gardening. There is a kind of joy & pleasure to be had from cleaning up the back yard and making your front lawn look pristine and manicured.
Some try wait it out thinking it will be a temporary problem that will ease in a couple of days. However, more often than not you know about it for days after.
You should be able to do some planting, mowing, weeding, mulching, etc… In order to do so you might need to take some precautions that will help you to avoid the initial small injuries from the overworking of your lower back muscles.
Table of Contents
Tip #1 Warm-Up Preparation is Key
Preparing for the tasks you intend to perform outside can go a long way in easing the effects of the work on your body.
First, you should remember that:
All gardening & yard activity is decent physical exercise!
You should treat it as such. Therefore, if you get back pain when working in the garden then you need to follow a warm-up routine just like you would with any gym workout.
How to Warm-up Before Gardening Tips
Here are three simple steps to take before you start gardening.
- 1. Do Light Exercise
Lighter exercises & movements are best prior to any activity.
- What you are trying to achieve is getting warm blood pumping through cold muscles. Not only that, but getting your brain working and the nerves firing to muscle you need to use for the activities to be done.
- Practically, this means doing a quick walk around the perimeter of the lawn (use this time to think of what task to do first), jogging on the spot on the grass or a compost heap, a brief cycle on a stationary bike etc…
- 2. Do Dynamic Stretching
I did my year long research study on benefits & risks of stretching back in 2003. What I discovered was don’t do bounce stretches (a.k.a ballistic stretching); this actually harms the muscles. I prefer gentle dynamic stretches.
- An example for the lower back region would be standing & leaning back into your lower back then stand upright again. This bending backwards will help motion the lumbar spine joints into extension which they like. Then I would do some slow, controlled flexion moves trying to touch my toes then rolling my spine back up to an upright position.
- An example for your neck, upper back & shoulders I would slowly rotate the neck side to side within comfort range. Then do some of these chin tuck rehab movements. For the shoulders do some internal and external rotation movements. This is as simple as having your arms hanging by your side and turning the hands so you see the palms then turn them over to face behind you.
- 3. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration is a real issue many adults have. Do you just drink cups of tea or coffee instead & had no water today? Being properly hydrated allows our muscles to function properly.
- Remember, when you are digging away at a soil bed or ripping out weeds you’re are sweating too. Perspiration means a loss of water and minerals which can lead to muscle cramping & spasms.
- Prior to beginning your outdoor tasks, drink an entire glass of water to assure that you start out hydrated. Then, fill a water bottle to carry with you outside so you can continue to easily & conveniently maintain hydration levels throughout your chores. If you are outside for long periods of time, take breaks to refill so you are never out of water.
Now lets move on to what to do when you are doing the jobs outside that need doing.
Tip #2 Proper Bending, Lifting & Posture
General poor posture and improper lifting techniques are two common biomechanical issues for most people. They are also two of the most common ways that cause people to injure themselves.
Poor movement habits leads to fatigue on the joints, discs and muscles around the spine. Moving more efficiently will help you to prevent the fatigue problem & avoid severe back pain episode.
How to Bend & Move Better During Gardening Tips
- Bend From Your Hips, Not Your Back – Have you read how to do a hip hinge yet? Learning how to bend over using your hip joints rather than the small lumbar facet joints will save your back.
- Lift with Your Legs – I’m a fan of knowing how to squat to lift. Bending at the knees to go down into a squat position helps to spread the load over all the correct joints form your ankles to your knees to your hip and pelvis. You’ll end up taking the weight with your gluts and thighs; muscles that are much tougher & better prepared to handle loads and compression forces.
- Don’t Lean Forward Over Your Lawn Mower – Try keep a straight back with good posture when pushing a mower. This is to avoid undue stress on your lower back from slumping for long periods, especially when pushing and pulling repeatedly. (Did something called flexion intolerance in the lumbar spine is the cause of this kind of pain?)
- Don’t Weed Standing Up – This leads to bending over again and again. Most people can’t be in a bent forward position for long without straining their back muscles. Instead, kneel on a garden mat or find a small stool to sit on to do the job, and keep all your tools within arm’s reach so you aren’t stretching too far to grab them. (See the recommended gardening tools section below)
- Try Rake & Hoe with Both Hands, Not Just the Dominant Side – When you rely only on your dominant side, you are using your muscles in an uneven fashion. This can cause an overuse injury to one side. Overcompensation might occur to try ease the strain tired side. Try digging at times by holding a handle with two vs one hand only.
- Change Your Motions by Switching Activities – If you are out in pottering in your garden every day, do a different activity every day. Th goal is to give your muscles time to rest; so you don’t get an repetitive strain injury. Just as you would rotate training muscle groups on different workout days at the gym. If you’re outside once a week, make sure to designate a certain amount of time to several different tasks so that you aren’t performing the same repetitive motions for long periods of time.
Blame the tool not the user, or is the saying the other way round 🙂
Seriously though, using the right type of equipment & gardening tools can make you life so much easier & much less stressful on your system.
For someone who is wants to enjoy planting colourful flowers each season or cut the grass so it looks like Lords cricket ground, I feel another important element is buying products to make the task & your life easier.
Best Ergonomic Gardening Tools to Avoid Back Pain
- Half-Height Wellies – Working in a wet potentially muddy environment you need waterproof shoes. However, full length wellies can bee very restrictive in a small space compared to a farm.I would recommend using a half-height wellington boot so that you can get some more bend in your ankle. Being able to flex and extend your ankle joint is vital for bending properly & so avoiding back pain. I like the lightweight Dunlop half-height wellington boots range on Amazon.
- Arch Support Inner Soles – I am a fan of using custom-made orthotics to manage back pain. I’d suggest investing in a good off the shelf pair at a minimum. Especially if you are going to be working for extended periods of time in your lawn.Wear these cushioned soles & arch supports in your supportive shoes or wellies. This will help reduce the impact of the ground on your back muscles. I would highly recommend the Birkenstock Blue Footbed-Arch Support 3/4 length option available on Amazon, I personally loved my old ones.
- Ergonomic Grass Strimmer – These are also known as weed eaters in some parts. Get a trimmer with a shoulder strap, so that edging and weeding isn’t as difficult for you.After looking at some of the top-rated gas weed eaters, the best options don’t have cords to worry about dragging around with you. A good option looks to be the Bosch ART 23 SL Electric grass trimmer available on Amazon.
- Kneeling Pad & Stool – When you need to get down to do bedding of plants you need to kneel down. This can be strenuous and painful on an arthritic knee. Also tiresome on the back.Using a kneeling pad for gardening will make the job much more comfortable. I would suggest looking at getting the Gardman Folding Garden Kneeler Seat Kneeling Pad on Amazon. It not only has a padded cushion to rest your knees on; the handles make standing up again easier too. Plus this turns into a portable seat to rest on.
- Retractable Garden Hose – You need to water your grass and plants of course to maintain a good looking garden. However, hoses can be a pain to unravel and get very heavy to lug around from the tap to the garden.I like the look of this UltraPro 100ft Expandable hosepipe from Scott & Co on Amazon. It has an ergonomic designed handle if you struggle with gripping (have you seen how to improve your grip strength here?). Grandmothers and grandfathers would love this as a gift.
If you do really struggle with lots of physical ailments, you shouldn’t take on all the work yourself.
Whilst you may find peace of mind planting & watering, the heavy lifting can be outsourced to someone more capable.
Think about hiring a uni or college student who needs a little extra cash. They can mow and edge your lawn for you. They can reach up hight to cut the hedge branches.
Hired help can really reduce the impact on your body, leaving the more enjoyable tasks like pruning the rose bushes or tilling the garden to you.
Don’t forget to stop and take a breather every now and then. Shorts breaks from activity are important; just like in a regular workout. It is also a time to avoid being in the sun for too long.
If you follow a few simple steps you can be fully prepared to tackle all your lawn work. Take some precautionary measures to prevent excess stress on your body related to gardening jobs. If you need some more professional help; find a chiropractor nearest to you.