Safe Gardening

If April showers bring May flowers, what do you think brings April flowers? With the early arrival of spring this year, there have already been great opportunities to get out and enjoy the pleasant weather and an enjoyable hobby, gardening!
To help get people in the excited about the season, A Channel’s ‘A’ Morning is celebrating with a spring garden special, check it out here –http://morning.atv.ca/ottawa/index.php .  Ottawa Physiotherapy and Sport Clinic’s Westboro physiotherapist Shane Maley will be on the show with some helpful tips to protect your body and make gardening more enjoyable.
The first thing you should consider is that gardening fits in great as part of a healthy, active lifestyle.  It is an enjoyable way to get outdoors and moving around, and being physically active in general will also help you in the garden.
Before you get your hands dirty, there are a few things you can do to warm up and protect your body.  Start with some gentle dynamic stretching (stretching with movement).  Swing your arms, lightly bend and twist to help get some blood flowing and loosen any tight muscles.  Once you feel limbered up, perform a few squats to engage the strong muscles in your legs and bottom, keeping your back straight and protected.  This helps teach your body how to properly perform heavy lifting as well as warming up your heart and muscles.
Now that you’re ready to tackle some projects, start by making a plan.  A common mistake is to work too hard and try to do too much.  With heavy items like large bags of soil or patio planters, it’s always best to ask a friend for some help to avoid lifting too much.  Plan out smaller lifts with the help of a wheelbarrow or try dragging items with the help of a spade.  Always remember to make more smaller trips instead of trying to tackle one big move. 
Breaks are important, as well as changing positions while working.  Instead of digging or planting for 2 hours straight, plan to alternate between activities every 20 or so minutes.  This reduces the stress on any given muscle group, helping to prevent repetitive strain injuries.
Once you do start working, as the saying goes, the right tool for the job can make all the difference.  These days there are a wide variety of light weight, ergonomic tools to choose from.  Always wear a good pair of gardening gloves, and use long-handled tools to prevent bending and reaching when possible.
When it comes to lifting, this is where caution and common sense should always be exercised.  As mentioned above, if something seems a bit heavy for you, never be too proud to ask for a hand!  It’s always fun to garden with a buddy anyways.  When you are lifting, the old adage ‘lift with your legs, not with your back’ still rings true.  To protect your back, lower yourself into a deep squat, bending your knees and drawing in your lower abdomen.  Draw the object in as close to you as possible and without forcing, smoothly push up using the strong muscles of your legs and bottom.  Always avoid bending at the waist and trying to straighten up.  The force on your low back can be 5 to 10 times as much as the weight of the object.  In a match between you and a 50 pound bag of soil, your back isn’t going to win with 500 pounds levering against it!  Remember, sometimes the smartest way to lift something is not lifting it at all.   Drag heavy objects or once again, partner up!
When it comes to weeding and planting, once again, use your legs not your back.  If you have to choose between bending sitting or kneeling, kneel whenever possible.  Sitting can be a good option, but your still spend much or your time hinged at the waist.  Whether or not you suffer from knee problems, a foam kneeler can be one of the best tools in your garden. 
Instead of reaching, try to move around and re-adjust often.  This give your body (especially your knees) a break and also protects your back.  Tricks like using mulch to avoid weeds and planting in raised beds or planters are other great ways to reduce the strain on your body.
Finally, one of the most dangerous activities of the spring is trying to pull start that old mower.  If you have a history of back problems your best option is to trade in your pull start mower for a model with an electric push-button start.  Not only will your back thank you, but so will the planet, as newer more efficient equipment emits less carbon as well.  Sounds like a win-win situation!
Even with careful, deliberate action, we can all get ahead of ourselves sometimes.  If you feel that something isn’t quite right, or you have a nagging ache or pain keeping you from enjoying some time outside, it’s always best to check things out with your neighbourhood registered Physiotherapist – http://www.westborophysiotherapy.ca/locations/.  Your body will probably thank  you!

Whether you’re a seasoned horticulturalist, or a gardening newbie, getting your hands dirty and having fun outside has something in it for everybody.  Happy spring and happy planting!

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