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Better Backcare in the Garden

As an Osteopath, I always know that my phone will ring on the Monday morning after the first good weekend in the year, when all the keen gardeners have been out tidying up their gardens, forgetting they have been more sedentary over the winter, losing some of their fitness. The purpose of this article is to give you some advice on how you might avoid straining your back in the garden.

Don’t let a bad back stop you!

You may have to make some changes to your garden and the way in which you approach gardening but remember exercise is good for your back so don’t let a bad back totally stop you. If you are prone to back pain, try to reduce the amount of bending and reaching you do, so keep your flowerbeds narrow and use ground cover plants to try and keep the beds weed-free. If you can, convert the flowerbeds to raised garden beds or pots so you can sit to weed, if that is easier.

Gardening tips to avoid back pain

  • Wear shoes that are supportive and comfortable and clothes that are flexible enough to allow you to move freely as well as keeping you warm.
  • Muscles work better when they are warm and are far less prone to injury. Walking round the garden a few times and doing some stretches before you start is a good idea. Modern athletes know how important this is and the same goes for gardeners! You could try rehearsing the movements you are planning to do, before you do it. For example, if you are going to dig some earth over, use the spade but without loading it with earth. This way you warm up the muscles you are going to use.
  • Maintain a good posture. Try not to use your back muscles and make use of your stronger thigh and buttock muscles whenever possible by bending your knees and keeping your back straight.
  • Pace yourself. It’s never a good idea to stay in one position for too long, so change what you are doing. Take regular breaks to walk around and stretch before returning to the task – if you have been bending then it’s always a good idea to balance out by doing the opposite movement, i.e. do some arching stretches in the lower back. For this same reason, it’s also advisable to alternate your garden tasks to involve different movements, say weeding with pruning rather than spending your entire time on just one task.
  • Try to reduce the bending and reaching by using light, long-handled tools.

If you do experience back pain whilst gardening, it is your body telling you to stop. Don’t just sit down, as your back may seize up. Try going for a short walk to keep the muscles and joints moving. If in doubt, please see this back pain article.