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The most important gardening tool is the human body. Proper body positioning, well-designed gardening gloves and tools, along with frequent rest breaks are the keys to healthy gardening.

The most important gardening tool is the human body. Proper body positioning, well-designed gardening gloves and tools, along with frequent rest breaks are the keys to healthy gardening.

Thirty minutes of yardwork, planting, or raking gives great general health benefits, such as preserving flexibility, increasing mobility, and building strength and endurance. However, aches, pains, sprains, and sometimes even a fracture can result from overuse of specific muscle groups, poor gardening technique, and working harder and longer than needed.

Whether you’re a master gardener or a budding amateur, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association recommends you follow these safety tips for tackling gardening chores.

Begin With a Warmup

Start with easy raking, or go for a five-minute walk to warm up your muscles. Stretch all major muscle groups to help prevent injury, emphasizing your back, neck, hands, and fingers.

Be Aware of Posture and Body Mechanics

Move your feet rather than twisting at your waist when sweeping, raking, mulching, or potting. If you can’t avoid twisting, tighten your stomach muscles to protect your back.

Use Ergonomically Correct Tools

Buy tools with long handles for weeding and use a potting bench that is high enough to prevent unnecessary bending. Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands from blisters, cuts, and dryness.

Pace Yourself

Don’t try to do everything all at once. Take breaks throughout your work and do some gentle stretching to keep limber. Because repeated actions that use a specific muscle or muscle group can cause pain or injury, try to vary tasks.

Raking or Hoeing

Keep your tools close to your body and your back straight to reduce strain. Use long-handled tools suited to your height and avoid twisting your trunk. If you need to bend over or reach too far while raking, consider using an ergonomic rake (available at garden centres).

Weeding or Planting

Instead of bending from the waist, squat or kneel on a kneeling pad. If you have difficulty getting up, use a bench with a support handle for assistance. Give your back, legs, and knees a break from stooping and kneeling by using tools with long handles.

Digging or Shovelling

Choose a shovel with a weight and handle length appropriate for your size and for the job you are doing. Inserting the head of the shovel vertically into the ground, step on the blade and lift small amounts at a time, bending at the knees and using your legs - not your back - to lift the load. Avoid twisting. You can give your back a break by using a smaller shovel, reducing the temptation to lift large amounts of soil.

Lifting or Carrying

Know your limits and lift properly: bend your knees - not your back, avoid twisting or reaching, and keep the load close to your body. Use a wagon or wheelbarrow to transport supplies and/or to move or carry heavy items. (A four-wheeled cart is sturdier and easier to use than a wheelbarrow.)

Pruning or Trimming

Match the size of the gardening tool handle to the size of your hand. Choose tools that you can hold so that your hand remains positioned in line with your forearm. Hold your tools in a loose, comfortable grip since holding too tightly may cause injury, then get as close to your work as possible; don’t stretch beyond your reach or past your stable footing.

You can find more information on gardening without injury by visiting the “Gardening Tips” page found on the Canadian Physiotherapy Association’s website physiotherapy.ca.

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