As we anxiously await the arrival of spring's milder temperatures, many of us are also looking forward to springing back into the garden. A place where plants, veggies and flowers thrive, a garden is also where people of all ages, fitness levels and shades of green thumb can enjoy physical activity. As with all types of exercise, there is a risk of injury if done improperly. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), it is important that gardeners take a health-conscious approach to both prevent injuries and reap the health rewards of gardening.
"Many gardeners injure themselves because they don’t view gardening as a workout," says APTA spokesperson Mary Ann Wilmarth, PT, DPT. "Gardening is a strenuous activity and it is very easy for people to overdo it, especially for seniors or those who have pre-existing conditions, limited mobility or who are normally inactive."
Common gardening tasks, such as digging, planting, weeding, mulching and raking can cause stress and strain on muscles and joints, primarily in the shoulders, back, neck and knees. APTA recommends the following tips to minimize the risk of injury:
- Warm up before you begin. Get your heart rate up by taking a 10-minute walk followed by some stretches for your upper and lower back, neck, arms and legs. Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.
- Don’t overdo it. Be mindful of how your body feels. If you experience an aching back or neck, then slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
- Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move tools and heavy planting materials.
- Don’t kneel on both knees. Keep one foot on the ground to give your back more stability. If you have to kneel, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure.
- Change positions and take frequent breaks to avoid stiffness or cramping.
- Start with smaller projects and build gradually. Don’t try to do it all at once.
- Practice proper body mechanics. Bend at your knees when you grab something or pull a weed, bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to avoid straining your back.
- End your gardening session with a short walk or some light stretching. Take a warm bath or shower to help prevent next-day soreness.
- If you experience pain, contact your physical therapist.
For more tips, information or exercises, explore our website, or schedule an appointment with us! We'd love to help you on your path to wellness!