How to avoid back pain while gardening
Some things in life are inevitable… day follows night, toast always lands butter side down and here at Cedar Tree, come this time of year, we unfortunately see a significant increase in the number of people injuring their lower back after the return to gardening.
But perhaps there are a few simple changes we can make to minimise the chance of this happening? Our aim is to help you win the war with the garden and come through it unscathed!
1) Stay hydrated
We all know that keeping hydrated is fantastic for our overall health, but so many of us simply forget to drink water. It’s great for your body for an endless number of reasons, but from a ‘back-specific’ point of view keeping hydrated allows the shock-absorbing discs of the spine and their supportive muscles to work much more effectively. NHS guidelines suggest drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day minimum with increased intake depending upon activity levels and climate.
2) The Golfer’s Lift
Yes, this is a gardening blog, but a technique called the ‘golfer’s lift’ can be especially useful in the garden particularly when lifting light objects. Extending the opposite leg to your lifting arm keeps the spine as straight as possible and takes maximum pressure off the back. See a great example in the picture below:
Tip - We see just as many people injure their backs lifting light objects as heavy, this is for two reasons: Firstly we don’t tend to think about engaging our core muscles if we’re only lifting something light, which means that we aren’t effectively protecting our spine. Secondly, we don’t always recognise the risk of injury due to poor posture if we’re only lifting a pencil, for example, whereas when lifting a heavy pot we tend to make sure our back is as straight as possible - this brings us on to our next point:
3) Alter your movement patterns
Gardening involves bending, twisting, crouching, leaning… virtually every movement you can imagine, and most of the time we don’t even realise the strain our backs are placed under. When bending, always bend at the knees and keep your back straight. Repeatedly twisting is another risky movement and can lead to suffering a slipped disc, so think about using a trug rather than frequently twisting your spine to throw waste into the bin.
4) Ask for help
It can be tempting to push yourself and soldier on, especially at the end of a long day when you want to finish as quickly as possible. Recognising your own limits and asking for help can nip a potential lower back injury in the bud. Lifting heavy plant pots and garden ornaments are our top offenders, so consider them carefully before lifting them on your own - in particular if you are starting to tire at the end of the day when the muscles of the back are fatigued and less supportive.
5) Lumbar support belts
We don’t often recommend using lumbar support belts, with long-term usage they can weaken the muscles in the back as their job has been taken on by the belt. This weakening of muscles leads to increased risk of injury. However, in the short term, especially if you have a history of back pain, wearing a lumbar support belt during risky activity such as gardening can help to protect your spine and remind you to keep good posture.
Failing all of the above tips there is always another option…… seek the help of a professional and enjoy a glass of Pimm’s in the sun instead!