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By Tim Jenkins

APA Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist

You may be wondering how to prevent back problems springing up while gardening?

We know it can be hard to stop gardening when there is so much to do!

The Weekend Warrior is too often a scene that plays out in my waiting room each week.

It is common for people to ask what can they do to prevent back pain while in the garden, and for that matter, also to prevent their suffering for the couple of days following a garden blitz.

Because of our qualifications and the 1000s of people we've been able to help over all the years, we have come up with four simple steps to help you and your back in the garden!

  1. Gardening is a year round marathon, not just a sprint!

Whether it is your own backyard, helping the kids with a new house, or sorting out that rental property between tenants, we are all in the same boat...we just want to get it done, yesterday!!

Too often we finally get that chance to launch into that spot in the garden that has been irritating us for weeks or months. Then the inevitable happens...a creak, a tweak, an ache in the back.

All of a sudden it’s game over!

What happened?

You didn’t keep up a regular schedule of gardening or physical activity.

You went from Zero to Hero!

Our bodies like to think that every day is the same.

It doesn’t like surprises.

Beat this by having a steady gardening schedule of 30 minutes, three to four times per week to keep your muscles toned and ready for action.

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2. Plan the work, work the plan, for a happy back!

If you know you are going to have a day in the garden, spare a thought for your back and plan a system and a process for gardening different activities and work heights.

Weeds down low (hopefully!), roses around your knees, hedges around your hips, trees around your shoulders?

Planning to work around the different garden heights will automatically save you from the scourge of static postures.

You know, the same ones we tell our kids to avoid on their phones/PS4s!

Charging blind into your garden is just leaving your backs happiness to luck and hope...have a plan, who knows what could happen?

If changing postures isn’t enough, then build in small breaks to ‘smell the roses’ and check in with your body for any developing aches.

If you are listening, your body will give you clues it is ready for a break.

If you have been bending for a while then curl back and vice versa!

Work in stretch breaks each 30 minutes.

Good yoga stretches include the cobra, child pose and book openings (bow and arrow)..

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3. Preparation for gardening happily

The National Health Guidelines point us towards 150 minutes of moderate exercise and two strength and conditioning sessions per week!

I mentioned that steady schedule earlier, because it IS ABSOLUTELY the BEST advice!

Yes your gardening may count for the moderate exercise (depending how you garden!),  but where does all this strength and conditioning fit in?

There are two possible reasons your back gets sore:

  1. It is weak

  2. It is overloaded

How do we fix this?

Get moving in the right way!

Great exercises for leg muscles include step ups, wall sits and box squats.

Great exercises for shoulders include shrugs, upright rows and bicep curls.

Then when you finally get the chance to get to that hedge out the back, and the pruners are a bit blunt, and Bunnings is a bit far, you won’t injure yourself but will work just fine.

Your capacity has grown and now you can plant, rake or prune happily knowing you have prepared for whatever surprises may spring up!

Your back will thank you for it.

4. Listen, and be conscious of your back muscles

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Do you ever get so focused, the rest of the world just disappears replaced with your own nirvana?

We know it’s a trick, but remember to spare a thought for your muscles that are doing the work!

Build in permanent seats into your garden.

If that plant pot looks manageable but a bit big, be sure to pull it in close and ‘love your load’.

Getting around corners can create quite a challenge, and our bodies work best when we keep our joints in the midranges.

The ‘nose and toes rule’ reminds us to keep our nose and our toes pointing in the same direction when loaded up.

Have to move a big load of mulch in a bucket?.

Consider taking two small buckets and equalising the load either side to prevent sideways stresses on your spine and joints.

As a physio, we really believe that the info above is ABSOLUTELY the BEST place to start, and hope that info is the best solution for you. However, if your scenario is different, another approach might be more appropriate. We can provide via a thorough initial assessment which looks at the multiple contributing factors, provides hands on treatment, clarity around diagnosis and a clear plan of how to solve or start the journey of recovery for you. If this sounds good to you then please follow the link and make a booking to see one of our very skilled practitioners.

Take care

Tim