April showers bring May flowers…and low back problems!?!?!?! It really is rewarding when you can go out over the spring, summer and fall and harvest the wonderful bounty from all the toiling you have done in the garden. The flowers are more stunning, the tomatoes are sweeter and the herbs are more aromatic from all the love you have invested in them. However, this labour of love can come at a price…low back pain. For the next few months the number of incidents of low back pain related to gardening will cause a steady flow of people seeking care at my office. So, how can you take care of yourself as you diligently toil to produce gorgeous crops throughout this year’s growing season?
1. Don’t become a statue
One of the biggest mistakes made when gardening is that we get locked into one position for too long. Bent over pulling weeds or kneeling incorrectly or sitting on small stools for extended periods can lead to low back, mid back and neck issues. Be sure to switch positions frequently so that your muscles can stay active and fluid, while also promoting blood flow.
2. Slow down and Break!!
A lot of my practice members find that taking frequent breaks allows them to be more productive and not suffer the same stress and strains that they have before when it was a constant blitz all day long. I have often talked about the importance of stretching both before and after physical activity (check out details on how to how to stretch properly in this article http://activebalancechiro.ca/taking-care-of-yourself-on-the-trails/), but with gardening some people will stay at it all day, taking breaks to eat. During these breaks is another great time to take 5-15 minutes to do some stretching.
3. Advice from a friend regarding your children
I was talking to an optometrist the other day and their major concern was about the lack of UV protection in children when they are young. They talked about how too much exposure could lead to eye problems down the road. Since a lot of us love having our children help us in the garden the important thing to remember is make sure your kiddos have sunglasses and wear a brimmed hat!
4. Water your plants, water yourself!
This has been a pretty consistent theme with my articles, especially those that involve activities in the sun. Even if you don’t feel it, you are losing water through perspiration as you cultivate your gardens. We all know how important water is to yield the best results in our gardens, but yet we often neglect to consume enough water, or drink it properly. To check out a general water consumption guideline have a look at this article (http://activebalancechiro.ca/taking-care-of-yourself-on-the-trails/)
5. How am I supposed to lift again?
This is probably the most frequently asked question I get at my practice during this time of year. Here are a few general tips to help (if you have specific issues or limitations you can always contact our office):
a) don’t lift things that are too heavy by yourself. Rule of thumb, if you are wondering if it is too heavy to lift by yourself, it probably is…get a friend to help!
b) wide stance with your feet
c) bend with your knees
d) don’t lose that normal curve you have in your low back when you are standing in a neutral position. Losing that curve loads more stress onto your discs and ligaments which can lead to your muscles tightening.
e) don’t overload yourself, it is a lot healthier for your spine if you make more frequent trips rather than trying to do it all at once.
f) wheelbarrows can help, but make sure it is not overloaded and that the load is balanced. Trying to prevent a wheelbarrow from tipping has caused more than one person to seek care at our office. If it tips, let it go, easier to clean up the mess than to have to deal with back pain.
6. Things with handles
It doesn’t matter if it is a shovel, rake or fill in the blank, if it has a long handle you are going to be bent, twisting and exerting a force onto your spine. These tools are almost always used in a very repetitive manner, and this overuse can often lead to low and mid back pain.
These are some general tips for taking care of yourself when gardening this spring and summer. If you have any specific questions, or have specific health conditions you can always contact me or your trusted health care provider.