Green Thumbs, Healthy Joints
Gardening is pleasurable and can be a good form of exercise. To stay healthy while gardening, warm up before you start and use good body mechanics. You will want to limit the load you have to lift and carry. Taking frequent breaks from strenuous activities and from awkward postures will help prevent back, neck, knee and arm injuries that can occur after gardening.
Gardening is a physical activity that utilizes major muscle groups in your back and legs in postures that strain our muscles and joints so warming those muscles up will make you less likely to get injured. A 5-minute walk or riding a bike followed by gentle stretches will get your back and muscles ready for gardening.
The number one injury associated with gardening is low back pain. Check the weight of the load prior to lifting and break down heavier items, like bags of soil/mulch, into smaller containers to reduce the weight of being lifted and carried. Use a wheelbarrow or other mechanical aid to make the task more manageable. Take a walk or do a standing activity after prolonged lifting or bending activities to place your back in a neutral/upright position after being strained. Avoid prolonged sitting after bending or lifting activities. Taking a walk after doing gardening activities is a great way to bring blood flow back to your back and leg muscles, improving your ability to recover from the strenuous or prolonged activity safely.
Your knees are utilized a lot while gardening to squat and kneel. Prevent inflammation in the knees by using a foam kneeling pad or portable kneeler and change positions frequently. Use ice or a cold pack after gardening if you experience discomfort.
Your hands perform a lot of repetitive and gripping motions while gardening. Decrease repetitive fine motor motions of pinching and pulling with the thumb and index finger. Try using a tool to remove some of the weeds and alternate using the right and left hand to break up repetitive stress. Keep your wrist in a straight position (in line with your forearm) while gripping tools and while pulling weeds and lifting or pushing/pulling.
Your shoulders and elbows get a good workout while gardening. Work below shoulder level whenever possible by using a ladder and limit elevated work to 5-minutes or less. Take a break or perform a different activity for several minutes prior to returning to the more challenging elevated work. When possible, work with the forearms in a neutral position (thumbs up) with your wrists straight (in line with your forearm) when pushing, pulling, and grasping. This decreases tension required for the arm muscles and tendons.
Gardening can help you stay active and strong if performed safely. Warm up and cool down by walking or performing active standing activities or exercises before and after gardening. Decrease the amount of weight you need to lift and carry by placing a portion of the load in another container and use a wheelbarrow or other mechanical aide to assist with moving heavy loads. Take frequent breaks from strenuous or difficult activities to give your muscles and joints time to recover prior to returning to those activities. Avoid prolonged sitting after gardening. Use a cold pack on joints or your back if you feel any strain or pain after gardening.
We help active adults get back to exercising, feeling fit, and participating in the activities they love without medications, injections, or surgery.
Catherine Courtney, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist