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Gardening Tips to Avoid Back Pain

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Gardening tips to avoid back pain. Gardening: It’s not a contact sport but sometimes you might think it was because it can be a very painful undetrtaking, especially in terms of lower back pain.

Gardening involves a lot of bending, and can lead to awkward positions. Reaching, when doing something as simple as pruning, can strain your back. Using tools, like a shovel, adds a whole new perspective on self-inflicted physical abuse. Moving heavy objects – like 25+-pound bags of potting mix – can pose a serious challenges to American gardeners. These are dead weights, often awkward to hold and carry, they can shift rapidly, which causes us to grab them and that’s when we end up in really serious trouble.

Add to the above the stress on the back produced by prolonged bending forward (flexion of the spine) which reverses the spine’s natural curvature which causes serious strains the ligaments, muscles, and the discs that separate the vertebrae in our backs.

Before Gardening

Back Stretches

These can also be done during or after gardening. Any exercise or back stretch should be done slowly and without strain. Never force yourself and if you feel ANYTHING painful, unexpected or unusual stop immediately!

1. Try these two warm-up exercises, both done lying on your back on the floor or on a bed.

a) Pull your knees, together, to your chest. Keep your ankles together, and lower both knees gently to one side, touching the floor/bed if possible, then the other. This massages the muscles on either side of the spine and gently moves the joints in the lower back.

b) Lie on your back, bring one knee up to you chest then gently move the knee toward the shoulder on the same side, then toward the opposite shoulder. Repeat for each knee.

WARNING – Never force yourself and if you feel ANYTHING painful, unexpected or unusual stop immediately!

2. Place you hands firmly close to the base of your spine and use your hands to make sure you don’t bend backwards too far. Slowly lean back as far as you can safely go three to six times. Make sure you suffer no discomfort. This extends the spine, which is the exact opposite of forward bending (or flexion).

During Gardening

Body Dynamics

Here are some suggestions for how and for how long to work to garden to avoid pain.

Gardening: It’s not a contact sport. Yet it can be surprisingly hard on the body, especially in terms of producing short-lived lower back pain.

Prolonged flexion of the spine – that is, bending forward, thus reversing the spine’s natural curvature and straining the ligaments, muscles, and even the discs that separate the vertebrae are a significant cause of back pain when gardening.

3. Do not garden for longer than 20-30 minutes at a time.

4. Every five minutes or so, stand up and perform the back bends described in 2) above.

5. Avoid standing and bending forward from the waist. If you need to be near the ground, like when you are weeding, place both knees on a well padded mat, lean forward from the waist, support yourself with one hand on the ground, keep up your neck and back as straight as possible, and use the other hand for gardening. Switch hands on a regular basis.

6. If you’re lifting a heavy object – a box of plants or soil, let’s say – you should bend your knees and never your back (for some lifts you may need to hold your legs wide open to get close enough), keeping your back straight, grasp the object with both hands (handles work well) and slowly straighten up while keeping your back straight.

Make sure you’re holding the object you’re lifting close to your body as you straighten your knees. You can also put one knee down and bend the other in order to avoid bending forward.

If you need to put the object down nearby, pivot your whole body, including hips and legs. Twisting only the upper body, while leaving the legs in place, causes the most strain, and pressure, on the lumbar discs – TRY NOT TO DO IT!

7. If back pain progresses to aching, tingling, or numbness in the buttocks or legs, stop doing what you’re doing immediately. These can be signs of too much pressure on one or more of the lumbar discs, which may cause sciatica – a very painful condition.

After Gardening

Back Pain Remedies

Despite our efforts and best intentions, anyone can end up with lower back pain. But there are a host of ways to ease back pain as long as there hasn’t been an serious injury.

8. Visits to a physical therapist or chiropractor shouldn’t be necessary within the first four weeks, but wouldn’t do any harm – the decision is up to you and depends of your history of back problems or the level of pain you’re enduring. Acupuncture isn’t considered a mainstream medical therapy although for some people it has proven to be highly effective at treating lower back pain.

9. Using a hot or cold compresse can alleviate pain. Either is fine, though cold is preferred – at least initially – if there’s swelling. Hot or cold the choice is up to you.

10. Over-the-counter medications in America, like ibuprofen (Advil) and paracetamol (Tylenol) can help but please be aware that these are associated with a few risks (check here for side-effects paracetamol and ibuprofen). Taking more than the recommended dosage (some people double up on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, with different brand names) can cause GI upset and bleeding and even increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

11. Electrotherapy, using a small low-cost Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine which you can buy on ebay or maybe from your local pharmacy, is a great non-drug alternative to pain relief with no side effects.

and just to finish off:

12. Check out About.com for best way to perform certain gardening tasks.)

There is another way to avoid back pain discussed above.

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