Plant & Rake Without the Ache: Tips for Staying Healthy While Gardening
Eighty-eight per cent of Ontario chiropractors report that gardening is the most common source of back and neck pain during the warm weather season. While we can expect some mild soreness when starting new activity or returning to activity (such as gardening after a long winter) sometimes it can become too much. As a guideline, any pain, stiffness or discomfort lasting longer than 2-3 days should be assessed. Also, if the pain is so intense that it stops your ability to garden, then a more serious injury may have occurred.
I have included a link to the Ontario Chiropractic Association’s Plant and Rake Without the Ache public education program, which is aimed at helping gardeners avoid the stiff & sore joints, muscle aches, neck and back pain that sometimes accompany this healthy activity. The program features informative handouts that provide ideas and guidance on exercises, stretches, lifting techniques and injury-prevention. Get informed, follow these tips and enjoy a pain-free gardening season! As always, if you have doubts or concerns about your symptoms, please get an assessment.
Here are some highlights from the program. If you do not have internet access or prefer paper handouts, copies are available at my office on Wellington Street or at The Seniors’ Centre in Bracebridge.
- Warm-Up and Stretch
- Before you begin, start by taking a 5-10 minute walk around your home, to the end of the driveway, around the yard or even on the spot! Cold muscles and joints are always more stiff. Remember to dress warmly as well; you can remove layers or change your clothing as needed. This also serves as a way to take a break and have a sip of water.
- Stretch the whole body – ankles, knees, hips, back, neck, shoulders, arms and wrists
- Lift Right
- Keep the heavy loads (such as garden soil) close to your body
- Bend at the knees and keep your spine straight
- Alternate between heavy and light loads
- Ask for help
- Take a Break
- Don’t rush to get it all done at once
- Break down a larger job and spread it out over time
- Plan easy and more strenuous activities together and alternate between them.
- Use the Right Tools
- Proper tools can make the work easier to do, more enjoyable and more effective!
- Eat Well & Hydrate
- Don’t skip meals
- Prepare healthy snacks in advance
- Use a slow-cooker or have left-overs to minimize the temptation of quick junk-food
- Keep a water bottle or thermos outside with you
- Use eating and drinking as a way to take a break, change your posture and clear your head
- Be mindful of your blood sugar levels and sun exposure.
Gardening is a wonderful pastime and it is truly physical exercise. Perhaps we should look at this hobby as an “event” that we need to “train” for by exercising and eating well throughout the winter months. Like most Canadians, we are all anticipating the warmer days and want to get as much done before the bugs come out. We can enjoy the many aspects of gardening without becoming injured by proper planning and preparation. As a Senior, you are wise enough and experienced enough to realize this. Slips and accidents can happen, but you are encouraged to practice prevention as much as you can. A broken bone, a strained shoulder and sciatica can take months to heal and will only taint your experience. Be healthy, be well, be smart and enjoy your gardens!