Spring is in full bloom and many of us are happily pottering around our yards with shovels and watering cans. While gardening can be a relaxing pastime, it can also place unexpected demands on the body. Injuries like sprains and strains are more common than many people realize.
Movements like raking, hoeing, lifting pots, and weeding while bending over can be hard on your lower back, while kneeling and prolonged squatting can be tough on knees. Shoulders can be stressed by repetitive lifting, raking, and hoeing, especially.
Whether you’re a long-time green thumb or picking up a trowel for the first time, it’s important to be mindful of your body when you’re toiling in the garden. Here are a few tips to help maximize your time in the yard — and minimize your time on the couch.
Cold weather and icy streets make it hard to stay active during the winter months, and many of us are eager to get moving when spring rolls around. Being sedentary increases your likelihood of getting injured during any physical activity, including gardening. Stay active all year long to avoid sprains and strains in the yard.
Ease Into Gardening
Keep your work sessions short — at least, at first. Spread out your gardening tasks over the course of several days or weeks, instead of working for hours on end. Make sure to take frequent breaks when you’re feeling fatigued.
Like any other activity, gardening is safer when your muscles are warm. Prime your body for gardening by doing 10-20 shallow lunges and squats or taking a 10-minute walk. Try to move constantly while gardening and avoid holding the same position for very long.
Stretch before and after gardening to loosen muscles and ligaments. To stretch out the back and hips, try the windshield wiper: lie on your back with your feet on the ground, moving your knees back and forth like a windshield wiper blade on a car. Don’t forget to stretch the hamstrings and quadriceps, as well.
When Injuries Happen
Even if you are mindful of your body, injuries like sprains and strains are possible. Sprains occur when ligaments are over-stretched, and strains, when muscles are over-stretched. In both cases, you may feel pain and tightness, bruising, or swelling. These symptoms can come on immediately or appear hours or days later.
Most of these injuries can be treated at home. For the first two or three days, protect the site with a tensor bandage or something similar. Take the appropriate time to rest the injured area, but keep the area moving without pain. Apply ice three or four times a day for 15 minutes at a time while adding compression with the tensor bandage. If you can, elevate the body part above the level of your heart. You can remember these strategies with the acronym ‘PRICE’ (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation).
Most of the time, symptoms will quickly subside on their own, but if they haven’t faded within three or four days, it’s time to see a physiotherapist. No physician’s referral is ever needed and services may be covered by your health insurance.