Avoid injury in the Garden

By: Todd Sparks MS, ATC, AT, LPTA
Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists - West Clinic

After the never-ending winter weather that Michigan has had this year, I think it's important to think warm thoughts. As temperatures start to climb, many people are going to be getting out in their yards and gardens and preparing them for planting season. Although gardening can be therapeutic in itself, its also an easy way for injuries to pop up. Gardening tasks like weeding, raking, digging, and mulching can all cause irritation due from strain and stress on your joints and muscles. Your back, neck, wrists, shoulders, and knees are all at a higher risk of pain and injury while gardening. Here are a few tips to help prevent injury that may occur:

  • Warm Up.  Warm up and stretch before beginning any yard work or gardening. Do some neck rolls, and stretch your back, arms, and legs. Then, instead of walking straight to your garden, walk past it, and keep walking for about 5-10 minutes to get the blood flowing.
  • No Static Positioning.  Avoid staying in the same position for too long. This goes for anything, not just gardening. If you're going to be kneeling, try to be on one knee, and keep the other foot planted on the ground. After a couple of minutes switch feet to help distribute muscle tension to different sides of the body. It may also be helpful to use a kneeling pad for comfort or protection on the knees.
  • Don't Overdo Things.  If it hurts, STOP! Once you are working for a while, you may start to notice a little discomfort. If you have changed positions, and it didn't help, get up and take a break. It may be a good time to go get a drink or a different tool from the garage. You could also take another stroll around the yard to get an idea of what other projects need to be done. While you are taking a break, stretch out that body part that had discomfort in the opposite direction it was in while the discomfort occurred.
  • Work Smart, Not Hard.  Gardening is supposed to be fun and relaxing. It's not meant to be back-breaking work, so don't let it be. Utilize tools like a wheelbarrow or wagon to move heavy mulch or topsoil instead of lifting it, risking injuries to your knees or back. Also, taking an extra trip may be worth more than carrying heavier objects all at once.
  • Protect Your Body. Use good technique to protect your body when you pick something up or pull on something such as a weed, or a shovel full of dirt. Bend your knees, tighten your abdominals, and keep your neck, back, and wrists straight as you lift or pull objects. Avoid twisting your spine or knees when moving things to the side. Properly move your feet or pivot on your toes to turn your body as one unit.
  • Stretch/Cool Down.  When you're done working, stretch you back, neck, and limbs to help protect your body from cramping. As you walk back inside, walk around the garden a few times to loosen the muscle back up before settling down for the day.
  • ORS offers free evaluations for anyone that is limited by pain or dysfunction. If you do sustain an injury doing yard work, gardening, or any other tasks, please call and make an appointment with any of our Physical Therapists. It’s best to address pain and soreness early and not let it turn into anything more serious. Happy Gardening! 

Todd is a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant at our West Clinic in Jackson and can be reached at toddatc@orsmi.com