A common problem that occurs eventually with many gardeners is back pain. This is usually brought on by many years of incorrect and risky back use and abuse.
By observing a few simple safety rules, you can avoid back pain in later years, or cope with the back pain you already have, without having to give up gardening.
Your Legs Have the Power.
Firstly, think about the way you lift things. Do you frequently tend to, like most people, bend at the waist, grasp the load, and then straighten up? This puts tremendous strain on your back. You are not only lifting the load you are also applying the weight of that load directly to the vertebrae and muscles of your back. This sort of unsafe lifting behaviour is responsible for more back injuries worldwide than any other cause. We all do it and in later years learn to regret it.
The correct way to lift to avoid this happening is by firstly bending at the knees in front of the load you want to lift. Once you are in a squatting position grasp your load firmly. Now while grasping the load use your legs to push upward into a standing position. By doing it this way, you are transferring the weight to your legs, which are biologically designed for load bearing not your back which is intended, if you look after it, to keep you in an upright position.
To come to grips with lifting a heavy load, take some time to watch how professional weight lifters do it. You will soon see the load is transferred to the legs not the back.
Are You a Garden Superman?
Another cause of back problems in the garden is what I frequently call the “Superman Syndrome”.
We are all tempted to try to haul around heavy pots of soil or bulky, heavy bags of potting compost or manures. Quite simply don’t do it. There are many mechanical aids out there that will save you a lot of pain later if you utilize them. Wheelbarrows, hand trolleys or even a friend can lighten the load and save you a lot of back pain.
If these are not available, you can easily slide the blade of a spade underneath a pot or tub and slide it along on this, using it like a sled, to where you want it.
Most gardeners also get over enthusiastic when loading wheelbarrows. Never overload your wheelbarrow, its safer, particularly where your back is concerned, to make more than one trip to move stuff than to overload the barrow and injure your back.
Don’t Let Weeds Become a Pain.
Weeding and planting are two areas we tend to over stress our backs in. Consider getting a proper kneeling pad to do these activities with. The ones with the side handles are preferable as they aid you when it is time to stand up. Don’t use a low seat as you are in a constantly bent posture that even after a short while will become uncomfortable.
Overreaching is another thing to avoid as this puts strain on your back leading to back pain. Always make garden beds as wide as you can comfortably reach without stretching.
Another backbreaking task in the garden is planting. Many people bend down to plant plants. This is one of the worst things you can do. Always kneel, it’s a lot less strenuous on your back and will save you a lot of backache.
If you already have a back problem consider planting thick ground covers or use mulches to suppress the weeds. By using these methods, you can eliminate the need to get down and weed.
Getting Off the Ground.
Another way chronic back suffers can still enjoy their gardens is for them to use raised beds. They should be roughly 4 feet wide and have a height of about 2-3 feet. This will allow easy reaching across the bed without stretching and give a height that should eliminate the need to bend.
They don’t have to be elaborate. Old sinks, bathtubs, polystyrene boxes, and even old bed frames can be adapted into very serviceable raised beds suitable for the gardening enthusiast.
Have you considered your workspace height? Potting and glasshouse benches should be at elbow height to avoid stooping or reaching when you are working at them. You will find this height much more comfortable and be able to work better and longer without the annoyance of backache.
Dig for Gain Not Pain.
One of the greatest causes of backache in the garden is the task of digging. Many gardeners get in the garden thinking they are in competition with the latest Rotary Hoe.
It is advisable before you start any digging task to do a few warm up exercises. This “powers up” the muscles in preparation for the task. Don’t dig too much all at once. Dig for half an hour then stop, have a cup of tea or a rest, and then dig again. This allows the muscles in your back to ease and relax. Once you feel a twinge in your back, it is telling you its time to have a rest.
Putting the spark in Your Mower.
If you already suffer back problems consider switching over to a lawnmower which either has electronic ignition or buying an electric mower. There is nothing worse for your back than trying to start a stubborn lawnmower.
The same applies to other petrol-powered machinery you may have, try to see if there is an electric version available, and your back will thank you for it later.
With a little care and attention you can keep your gardening relatively pain free. When gardening becomes a painful chore, we tend to loose interest. Think about your back in the garden and with proper care, it will support you through many years of pain free gardening.