10 Ways to Love Gardening and Protect Your Spine

Gardening is an excellent outdoor activity. Sun, fresh air and physical work are all great for our health, but it can also be very stressful on the spine. Pain from sciatica and bulging or herniated discs can be aggravated or even caused by the bending over and twisting forces that put strain through the spine.

When gardening, you may potentially spend hours hunched over and carrying heavy things. Follow these 10 tips to keep your spine safe whilst you embrace your green fingers:

1. Warm Up/Stretch: Take a few minutes to warm up your muscles and joints. This will allow you to move more easily and with greater range. Ideal stretches are: cat/camel, hamstrings and hip flexors (quadriceps), knees to chest and shoulder shrugs – this will give your body an overall warm up.

2. Maintain a Healthy Posture: Constant bending forward strains the lower back and can result in serious low back injuries, so where possible, stay upright with your head in line with your shoulders. A good trick to help with this is to have a garden with hanging pots, or elevated planting beds.

3. Pace Yourself: Gardening is way more challenging on the body than most people realise. Twisting, reaching, straining and hauling all add up to strain on your spine. Plan out what you want to achieve and don’t do too much too quickly!

4. Take Regular Breaks: Take periodic breaks to rehydrate and to stretch your spine, hips neck. Keep loose and flexible.

5. Long Handled Gardening tools: Rakes, hoes and shovels that enable you to do most of the work upright are best. Do what you can to minimise stressful twisting and lifting.

6. Proper Lifting Technique: This is probably the number one cause of those instant strains – the ones that stop you from being able to stand back upright! When you absolutely have to bend over to pick something up, make sure you bend at the knees and not your hips! Your thighs are big, strong muscles designed to do the hard work in this situation, so let them.

7. Alternate Hands and Feet when using scissors: Use one arm and leg to exert the bulk of your work force while digging or raking. Then switch to your alternate leg/arm. When you maintain balance, you can work more effectively without tiring or overstraining yourself.

8. Kneel With Knee Pads: Rather than bending over, as mentioned in point 2 above, kneel for any work at ground level. Wearing knee pads will make this a comfortable option and reduce the stress on your low back.

9. Pivot when you move heavy objects: Bending forwards and then twisting is the movement that increases the pressure in your low back the most, meaning this is when you are most susceptible to injuring your discs. Anyone that has done this knows it is a painful and debilitating injury. The way to avoid that is if you want to lift something on your right side and want to place it down on your left, rather than turn at the hips, pivot on your feet instead. This slight step greatly reduces strain on your lower back that can lead to a bulging or herniated spinal disc.

10. Use a Wheelbarrow: Dirt, soil, bricks and plants can be incredibly heavy. A good wheelbarrow is designed to help you move heavy and cumbersome items easily, so be sensible and plan ahead if you need to do some heavy work.

Gardening is such a pleasurable hobby for so many of us. Use these tips to make sure you can continue to do it for many years to come!

Call the team at Sydney Spine and Sports Clinic to see how we can help you optimise your health.

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