PHYSIOTHERAPY AND GARDENING SPRING 2019
by Daniel Browne
With the arrival of spring, many of us are extending our gaze outside to find an overgrown garden bed, a tree that needs pruning or perhaps a plot of land that’s due for reinvigoration! Whatever the motivation, gardening is a great way to maintain mobility, build strength and get back in touch with mother nature. Below are a few tips and tricks to make sure the gardening experience you have is a fruitful one!
Gardening is exercise and we know that doing a good warm up will prevent injury and optimise our performance. Whether you’re working at ground, waist or overhead level, making sure you have good movement through your hips, lower and middle back will go a long way to keep you out in the spring air! Below are a two of key stretches to help get you moving.
2) Thoracic open book stretch.
When digging a hole, it is important to pick a shovel that’s the right height . Too long and the lever arm (handle) will be awkward to manoeuvre, placing extra strain through your shoulders and neck.Too short and you’ll find yourself hunched over, putting undue stress through your lower back. When picking a shovel, it’s important to pick one that will serve its purpose – think of the shape of the shovel head (more/less dirt vs ability to cut into the finer spaces) and the ergonomics of the handle (is it rubber supported/wood/steel). When measuring the shovel, a good length is approximately just above you hip bone – this way once you get into your split stance position, your back can remain straight and you can generate adequate force through your legs and torso. Another simple tip is not to overfill the shovel, think 2/3 of the total head and consider utilising a wheelbarrow so that you don’t need to cart the dirt around – this also saves mess!
For those who get knee pain when kneeling, trialling a soft matand/or knee pads can be a quick and cost-effective solution. Alternatively, going into a split stance (one leg up, one down similar to the kneeling hip flexor stretch listed above) will give the knees an opportunity to take a break from the load. If you’re someone who tends to lose track of time in the garden (like me!), at times you may notice your feet or lower leg may feel like it goes to sleep. In general it is important not to hold any sustained body posture too long whether that be seated/kneeling or otherwise. I’d suggest getting up and moving a little every 20 minutes or so – this will keep you mobile and give you an extra opportunity to stand back and admire all your hard work!
As we all know, the trees aren’t going to trim themselves nor drop branches in a nice even pattern! Spending extended periods of time working overhead can lead to issues with your neck and shoulder,potentially causing pain and stiffness. A simple solution here is to make sure you get yourself close to the level of cutting utilising a ladder (make sure to check the level of the ground first!). Alternatively, you could invest in an extender arm for the trimming which will allow you to operate the machine from chest-waist level and take the strain off the shoulders and neck.
Personally, I’m excited to be back in the garden. As with all physical activity, it’s important that we start slowly and build up. By following some of the tips and tricks above, not only will you be able to spend more time tending to the garden, but you’ll be giving your body that extra little bit of healthy exercise and sunlight we’ve all been missing!