Spring Gardening: 7 Tips to Prevent Back Injury and Muscle Strain

Spring gardening season is here! Before you start planting your favourite flowers, make sure you keep safety in mind to avoid muscle strain or back injury. Small changes to your movements and gardening habits will allow you to enjoy spring gardening and the beauty it brings.

Gardening is a physical activity so think of it as one that requires training, similar to preparing for running a marathon. Consider gardening as hiking — your first time out for the season shouldn’t exceed a few hours. Lifting and digging can put stress on your back and other muscles and the morning after a day filled with planting will activate muscles you likely haven’t used all winter.

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Follow these 7 tips to ensure that you stay safe throughout spring gardening season

1. Do a simple warm-up

Start by taking a 5-minute walk to get your cardiovascular system ready. Stretch your back and leg muscles to limber them up.

2. Use proper-fitting gardening tools

Make sure the grip size of your tools matches the size of your hands to reduce stress on your forearms. Remember to hold tools with a light grip to avoid muscle strain and use long-handled tools for weed extraction to reduce stress on your back. A bench is recommended to avoid bending over too much. If you are working on your knees for extended periods, consider a good pair of knee pads to relieve pressure. A good pair of gardening gloves will help avoid blisters and dryness.

3. Be aware of the sun and stay hydrated

Take frequent breaks and give your body rest when needed, overworking can lead to injury. Not all gardening is done on the ground as you may need to trim the trees hanging over your garden. Get as close to the bush or trees as possible and avoid awkward foot positioning to avoid slipping or falling.

4. Be careful when you lift

Keep your back as straight as possible to allow your core muscles to contract and protect discs and joints in your back. When lifting large bags of soil, bend with your knees, not with your back. Your knees are strongest when bent at 90 degrees so when you lift a bag of soil, bend down halfway with your knees and lift with your quadriceps.

5. Contract your abdominal muscles before lifting

Before lifting a wheelbarrow or bag of gravel, tighten up your abdominal muscles. This stabilizes your core and back, preventing facet joints in your lumbar spine.

6. Keep your nose between your toes (don’t twist)

We tend to keep our feet locked in position when moving or throwing objects. Your feet should be in aligned with the position of your body when throwing soil or gravel onto the ground.

7. Keep the weight close to you 

When you hold an object at arm’s length in front of you, it places 10 times the stress on your back muscles. Your centre of gravity changes when any weight is moved ahead of your midline. When carrying weight or lifting, keep the object close to your stomach so that you don’t alter your centre of gravity and strain muscles around your lumbar spine.

Contact Activa Physiotherapy Ottawa to learn more about preventing back injury and muscle strain when spring gardening this season. Happy planting!