Back Tips for Gardeners

ST. LOUIS - Sharon McClintonhas been gardening for more than 30 years. Since that time, she hassuffered numerous lower back and other muscular injuries. While sheunderstands her limitations and takes precautions to guard againstinjuries, McClinton admits it can be difficult to remember to practiceproper techniques while enjoying her favorite springtime hobby."I think I'm being careful, and then I realize I've spentthree hours in one position weeding on my hands and knees," she said,noting that her injuries today are now less severe and frequent. "OrI'll twist, and find my body is facing one way and my feet the other,and I'll think 'Uh-oh, I shouldn't have done that'." McClintonattributes her decrease in gardening-related injuries to propereducation and preventive chiropractic care before the gardening seasonbegins. When she does overexert herself, she seeks advice and treatmentto alleviate the pain from the Madosky Chiropractic and AcupunctureCenter in St. Louis. Treatments usually include chiropracticadjustments and deep massage. "Gardening-related pain, such as Sharon's, is one of the mostcommon complaints I get in my office this time of year," said Madosky,a chiropractic physician known as the "Back Doctor" on the NBCaffiliate, KSDK-TV. "Because gardening is terrific exercise in thefresh air and rewarding on so many levels, we often underestimate thetime and effort it will take and overestimate our physical abilities."

Madosky says you can greatly reduce the chances for pain andinjury while gardening by tuning into your body and observing thefollowing techniques:

  • Treat gardening as a sport. Begingardening by warming up as you would before any sports activity.Stretch the most frequently used muscles in the upper and lower body sothey become more flexible and able to handle the tasks at hand. Don'tforget to stretch after finishing your work to help relax muscles andreduce soreness later.
  • Carefully plan how much time is required.Realistically assess how much you can accomplish. Most injuries occurfrom doing too much too quickly.
  • Keep good body mechanics in mind.Carefully lift heavy bags of dirt or mulch. Keep your back straight,bend at the knees, lift with the strength of your legs and hold the bagas closely to your body as possible. When digging with a shovel, liftthe dirt and turn your entire body before empting the contents. Avoidlifting, twisting and throwing, especially if the soil is wet or clay.
  • Alternate your activities to use differentmuscle groups. Frequently vary your activities to minimizethe repetitive stress placed on your spine and adjoining muscles.
  • Use acushion, stool or small bench when weeding. This helps toavoid strain on your knees and lower back.
  • Take frequent breaks. Minimize thechance of injury by taking breaks every 30 to 60 minutes. Take a fewminutes to stretch, get a drink of water and evaluate what you want todo next.
  • Stop gardening before you become fatigued.Most injuries occur when you are trying to do "one last thing." If youfeel stiff, sore or experience pain, use ice on the affected area for15 to 20 minutes. If the pain persists or becomes more intense, stopgardening and consult you health care provider.

Madosky also offers gardening advice for individuals who havechronic back, neck, shoulder, knee or wrist pain. People who havedifficulty grasping small items or bending should consider specialtools with longer handles and larger handgrips. Meanwhile, platformgardening elevates the garden bed for those who have challengeskneeling or bending.


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