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Aches and Pains Related to Gardening … and how to Avoid Them!

Aches and Pains Related to Gardening … and how to Avoid Them!

I was invited recently to talk to the Woolaston Amateur Gardening Society (WAGS).  I was obviously not there to give tips on plants or pruning techniques, but they were interested to know some tips on how to avoid some of the aches and pains most people experience in pursuit of their hobby.

As I was leaving, I was asked if I could provide a summary on a leaflet to remind them of some of the things we discussed.  I thought I’d share on the website, so more people could benefit.

Back pain is common among gardeners, and many people also suffer with knee or hip pain, all of which restrict bending, digging and lifting.  Use of hand tools may cause elbow and wrist pain, which is a problem when using secateurs or shears.  Shoulder pain and stiffness can restrict reaching and lifting.

Amateur gardeners are often older people who may have restricted movement due to stiff joints or arthritis.

So here are a few points to consider:

  1.  Warm up. A brisk walk will get the blood flowing and joints moving.
  2. Plan.  Think about what you hope to realistically achieve in your session and how you will go about it.  Dress appropriately in clothing that is easy to move it and doesn’t matter getting dirty. Make sure routes are clear to avoid unnecessary putting down and picking up.  Plan to spend 20 minutes on a gentle activity followed by 20 minutes of something more strenuous, such as digging.  Intersperse with breaks and change activities regularly. Standing with your hands in your waist and leaning backwards a few times helps reverse the bent position.
  3. Select suitable tools and keep them clean and sharp.  Lightweight tools are available, long-handled trowels and forks. Long-reach pruners and adjustable loppers will help avoid climbing ladders.  We looked at the Easi-Grip range of tools which have soft-grip ergonomic handles that keep the hand and wrist in a neutral position. Thicker grips on secateurs and trowels, made with pipe-lagging and tape can help with elbows and hands.
  4. Use wheelbarrows, sack-trucks and wagons such as the Luckyermore Garden Utility Wagon which has pneumatic tyres for easy pulling and a tipping facility.  Lightweight sheets are also great for shifting leaves etc and can be easily dragged.  Small loads frequently emptied have the advantage of less strain and more walking breaks.
  5. Adapt your garden to your capabilities, using raised beds if necessary, pots on platforms, less lawn, easy edges, wild flower areas, shrubs, fewer beds requiring digging. Plan greenhouses with shelves at a height right for you to work at standing or sitting or perching on a stool.
  6. Use your body sensibly.  A kneeler may be made with a cushion inside a plastic compost bag, or a kneeling-bench-stool can be helpful.  Try kneeling on your right knee with left foot forward to help support your back whilst using a trowel in your right hand.
  7. Use the strong muscles in your legs for pushing, pulling, lifting and getting up from kneeling.  Reaching can be easier with a wide lunge action, keeping feet flat on the ground and transferring weight from one leg to another.
  8. Lifting.  Plan – need 2 people?  Wide base.  Feet flat on ground and pointing in direction of movement.  Grip underneath the object with knees bent.  Lift head up before pushing the ground away with your feet to lift, keeping the object close to your body.  Practice the “gorilla” stance.
  9.  Pace yourself
  10. Get stronger by doing exercises.  Squats are great.  Or sit to stand x 10, perhaps lowering bottom to chair and pushing up again just before your bottom touches down. Maintain flexibility by doing some arm stretches, opening out your chest.  General mobility exercises are always helpful, including trunk rotations in sitting or standing.
  11. You may like o look at these videos that I made during the Covid pandemic lockdown: Looking after your back in the garden
  12. Stretches after gardening
  13. Blank!
  14. Most importantly, keep it manageable, and maintain the enjoyment in your gardening!