Gardening without tears

Shuaib Karmani

As the days warm up outdoor living becomes more appealing and so our attention turns from the house to the garden. Whether you are inspired to take on a big new project or simply trying to keep the weeds at bay, the chances are your back will bear the brunt of your efforts. Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Shuaib Karmani, is a specialist in all forms of spinal treatment and shares some tips for pain free gardening.

Gardening is a healthy activity that is enjoyed by a great many people but you will enjoy the fruits of your labours all the more if you approach the more intensive tasks with a care. Lifting heavy items like planters or watering cans (now essential thanks to the hosepipe ban); bending over to prune and deadhead; kneeling for long periods to weed or put in bedding plants are essential garden tasks but also activities that take their toll on your body.

Here are some tips that will help you to enjoy your garden and save your back:

Before you begin

Stretching and warming up your muscles before a spot of gardening might sound a bit over the top, but if you are not used to strenuous activity, then a few stretching exercises before you get busy with a spade is a very good idea.

Weeding and planting beds

Kneel rather than bending down or stooping and place a cushion under your knees. It will help take the pressure off them. Stand up regularly and stretch out your muscles.

Digging

Choose a spade that is relatively lightweight. If your spade is large you will be tempted to lift a greater amount of soil further adding to the weight. Keep your back straight and try not to bend over the spade. Keep close to the spade when pushing into the ground, bend your knees and hold the handle near the blade and rise. As you turn to deposit the soil make sure you don’t twist your body – your feet and shoulders should turn together.

Lifting

Lift with your legs not your back. Bend your knees and keep your back straight as you rise. Be sensible and get someone to help you lift heavy items and use a wheelbarrow to transport awkward loads like bags of potting compost. When lifting into the wheelbarrow, use one hand to lift the bag from the underneath rather than trying to pick the bag up with two hands from the top.

High Jobs

Use a step ladder for jobs that would otherwise require you to crane your neck, such as trimming hedges or pruning trees and climbers. This will put you in a much more comfortable position and take the strain off your neck, shoulders and arms.

Know when to stop

Although it’s tempting to plough on and complete the tasks that you’ve set out to do, taking regular breaks and stopping before you start to ache will be more productive in the long run. It’s also a good idea to vary the tasks you do throughout the day so that you are not straining a particular area of the body for prolonged periods.

If you do overdo things and your back is aching, your neck is sore, then take essential time out and swap your wheelbarrow for a hammock. Rest assured that most back strains will settle with simple treatments, like over the counter anti-inflammatories. But if your pain persists, or you experience numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, or you have difficulty sleeping, then this may represent a more serious attack of back pain. If so, then you should seek advice from your GP who may refer you to a back specialist for further tests and treatment.