Get Outside and Look After Your Body in the Garden

01 March 2022

Getting outside in the sunshine and warmer spring weather is good for your body (like I always say, movement is medicine), it’s good for your mood, and your mind. Vital Vitamin D levels can be topped up in the sunshine too!

However, a lot of springtime injuries that I see in the clinic are induced by gardening – and this is not always exclusively the lower back.

Whether you have a big outside space or a little courtyard, the garden can present a real opportunity to move, get active but also pose physical challenges to the body.

Remember, in the garden we are often repeatedly lifting (sometimes VERY heavy pots), bending, pulling, reaching…. What a great potential work out for the whole body!

The most common injuries I see as a result of gardening are in the lumbar spine (lower back), and these can range from minor overstrains to disc trauma.

I see a lot of sore knees from extensive kneeling – especially on hard ground. This can cause (amongst many other things) something called housemaid’s knee.

I also see a lot of pulled shoulders and elbows, this is usually as a result of a lot of repetitive work, i.e. small trowel work, or from overhead work.

My Top Tips to Avoid Injury!

Warm Up

Take the time to warm your body up, top to toe.

Often the first our physical body knows that it is about to do physical work is when it begins.

Warming the body up is a great preparation for activity. All of your body is involved in gardening, and a good top to toe workout can take as little as 5 minutes. Here is a link to one that I teach.

Take Regular Breaks

Activities such as digging/lawn mowing are incredibly physical and heavy.

It is important to take breaks. I recommend every 20-30 mins break the activity up (perhaps set a timer on your phone), for a good 10 minutes – a perfect time to rehydrate with a nice glass of water! Vary what you’re doing and plan what you want to do.

This may be over a series of days/weeks for bigger projects. Try to mix your activities to give different structures in your body a chance to work/rest, for example, some weeding, some pruning, and some potting.

And speaking of Potting – a lot of people will kneel down on cold ground for this. I advise you to use a table at a good height (so you’re not bending forwards) when doing seed trays/hanging baskets. For heavy pots, pot them in the position you want them in (avoiding moving them full!) – and if you need to kneel, use a decent kneeling pad. For knees that won’t facilitate this, a low stool that you can sit on (not a normal chair as you will end up bending forwards) is great!

Overhead Work

This can be dangerous and I have over the years seen some huge injuries from people falling off ladders.

You really need to have someone with you, and make sure they are stable.

Please do not overreach when on ladders, get off and move them.

Overhead equipment can be heavy on the shoulders, so please, do take regular breaks.

If you need help, find a friend or call in a professional, risking it is NEVER worth it!

And finally, take a nice hot bath or shower afterwards to help those muscles recover!

At KOPI we sell a great product called ‘Jones the Bones’ which helps soothe those achy muscles and joints - the bath salts would be excellent to help ease the body after a busy day in the garden!

The most important thing about gardening is to enjoy it.

Enjoy seeing your garden bloom and providing a heaven for bees, butterflies and so many other wonderful things. It is even better when you grow your own, the rewards can be amazing!

Emily Coombes
Registered Osteopath (7416) and principal Osteopath at Kibworth Osteopaths & Pilates

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