Dr. Alexander Jimenez takes a look at how to keep your back healthy while doing yard work and gardening. We’re looking for ways to find mental and physical engagement without socializing. Many individuals are breaking up isolation and monotony by doing some home projects out in the yard and garden.
Doctors may tell patients that yard work and gardening should be avoided if they have a bad back. Individuals with a history of back pain/issues or have had spinal surgery might think that gardening is out of the question. None of this is true. Yard work and gardening can be therapeutic physically and mentally for individuals with compromised backs as long as they follow some common-sense safety concepts.
Gardening with an ergonomic approach can make yard work and gardening very back/spine-friendly. If possible try to get tools for gardeners with neck and back problems or modify your own. Modified tools can highly reduce the chances of injuring your back. Try to set up the yard or garden in a way where there is minimal bending and reaching.
If this cannot be achieved set up the work to be done in an order where any bending/reaching tasks are spaced out so as not to be doing them all at once. Here are some ways for back-preservation when doing yard work and gardening. They will make your work more productive and reduce fatigue, discomfort, and minimize the risk of exacerbating any back injuries/problems.
Working in the right environment is an important step for those with a bad back. If possible garden on a raised platform or a raised garden that is at a comfortable height to be able to stand and garden without bending and reaching. Structures can be purchased, or make them yourself with old broken used furniture like tables, shelves, etc. Garden beds can be worked using the square foot technique to minimize bending, reaching and squatting.
The Square Foot gardening technique was invented in 1976 by Mel Bartholomew, a civil engineer, and efficiency expert that took up gardening after retiring. These types of gardens are made to be waist level using old furniture, self-made or store-bought frames that are back-friendly. Gardening like this means less time weeding, bending and reaching with more time enjoying the therapeutic benefits.
Preparation with the Spine in Mind
Here are some tips on modifying your methods and tools for safe yard work and gardening. One example is using a golf bag with wheels for carrying and select long tools. Also using a two-wheeled garden cart/wheel-barrow. It is more balanced than a standard wheelbarrow and is better for the spine.
Practice Safe Posture/Position
Never use the back muscles to lift. Lift with the legs. Bend the knees, hinge at your hips and keep the back straight. If needed practice bending in front of a mirror to see your form and make sure the technique is being done properly. Check out this YouTube video on raking and hoeing. Plant containers while standing using a potting bench, or an old table. Have a stool, chair or heavy-duty bucket to sit down easily when a break is needed.
One back-friendly gardening technique is to plant in containers. Plant them where they will sit, which minimizes having to lift or carrying to a location. Styrofoam peanuts can be placed at the bottom third of the container instead of gravel to make the containers lighter. If using large containers, invest in a wheeled pot dolly to move the containers easily.
Focus on the Time and Not the Task
With big projects, break them down into smaller more manageable tasks. Dividing the bed/s into halves or thirds makes the work more pleasant. Underestimating how long a project might take can be a major set back. So set time limits and follow through. When recovering from surgery or a back injury, set a limit of 15 minutes of work and see how it feels. If your back is not irritated or sore then expand to 30 minutes and so on.
Work smarter not harder. Under no circumstances should you shovel or pull up heavy, deep-rooted plant/s. This type of movement could put an end to yard work and gardening for some time. Do not forget that pain is our body’s way of telling us to stop. Be sure to talk with a spine specialist or chiropractor before starting yard work or gardening.
Activity and fresh air can make us feel healthy and happy. Gardening can provide this along with healthy exercise. Therapeutic benefits of yard work and gardening have been well documented. Gardeners that did daily work were found to experience significant reductions in stress and improvement in overall health and quality of life compared to non-gardeners.
Gardening can significantly raise levels of energy, optimism, zest for life, self-esteem, openness and other factors relevant to self-image. Even a little gardening goes a long way. Just being outside and the physicality of yard work and gardening contributes to stress reduction. Another benefit from gardening is if planting herbs, and veggies you can cook even healthier. Much like a farm to table restaurant.
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