Gardening from a Therapy Point of View
Gardening is great way to get way to exercise. Talk about a workout....lifting, bending, pulling, digging, mowing.....it's a personal trainer's dream. Who needs weights when you can lift a 30 pound bag of mulch from ground to shoulder level? Who needs a treadmill when you walk the length of your yard 100 times while pushing a lawnmower? Fresh air, a bountiful garden of vegetables, and home-grown flower bouquets are your reward. Sometimes its not all rosey along the garden path. It's not insects or too much rain. It's the all too familiar physical aches and pains arising from overuse, repetitive actions, and poor body mechanics. Let's take a look at gardening from a physical therapy point of view.
Before heading outside, gardeners benefit from doing a few warm-up exercises (arm circles, shoulder blade stretch, and bend backs).
The key to injury-free gardening is to plan your tasks and use good body mechanics. Avoid long-term, highly repetitive actions which lead to physical aches and pains down the road. Add a bit of variety to your day - weed for 15-20 minutes, stop, take a break or rake for awhile. Then return to your weeding. Limit the time in any one position to 20 minutes or less, change positions or change activity. Keep moving, it's all about change....frequent change.
The most common gardening-related complaints seen by physical therapy are hand pain, low back strain, and knee stiffness. Hand, finger, and thumb problems arise from overuse. Gripping and squeezing hand tools, forceful weed pulling, as well as close encounters with blackberry bush thorns. These all contribute to hand pain and stiffness. Take good care of your hands by
- Using soft grip handles on hand tools
- Wear garden gloves with padded palm and thumb
- Stretch hands and fingers with palm stretch and finger fan
- Strengthen hand and fingers with ball, clothespin and rubber band exercises
Low back pain can ruin your day. Before you pick up a big bag of compost, move a potted plant, or start digging a hole....stop and try these first:
- Stand with feet apart, bend your knees, and pull the bag close to your body. Now gradually straighten your knees as you lift the bag up. Always carry heavy loads close to your body, not out in front or on one side.
- Split the bag in half, pour half the contents into a bucket or other container
- When prepping beds for planting, use long-handled tools to allow you to remain standing
- Move with your tool. Take a step forward and in the direction you are raking, hoeing, or shoveling.....avoid twisting actions
- When digging with a shovel, bend your hips and knees, keep elbows close to your body
- When pushing a lawnmower, don't bend forward. Stay upright, keeping your elbows slightly bent
Keep those knees looking and feeling good by
- Kneeling on foam pad avoids squatting or hyperflexing your knee joint
- Move close to your work to avoid over-reaching
- When carrying a heavy load, don't pivot on your knees when changing direction. Instead, take a step in the new direction
Speaking as a physical therapist, I would rather see you exercise in the garden....than in my clinic. Take time to stretch, change positions, enjoy a cool drink, and admire your handiwork. Let's go green.
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