With only the few months of gardening weather we have in the Canadian prairies, it's important to make the most of the time we do have outdoors, which can create the "Binge Gardener" in some of us. Quickly getting our plants, veggies and flowers in after the first sign that frost has retired till fall, is a task most gardeners anticipate all winter and for those living in Manitoba, we often have to wait till June to be certain the frost gremlin will not rear its ugly face again till October sometime.
The trouble with binge gardening is that we try to do all the tasks to ready a garden, plant and nurture our new ground residents in concentrated doses, instead of spreading the tasks out over the growing season. The repetitive physical demands such as bending, squatting, kneeling, reaching, etc., involved in gardening can create musculoskeletal injuries, which can be harder to undo than a overflowing spread of Snow in the Valley that creeps into your lawn!
For folks who have mobility challenges, who are pregnant or are seniors who have energy limitations, this once beloved leisure love can turn out to be a source of pain and aggravation just as gardening season gets underway. Here are some ergonomic tips and adaptations that might help you are someone you know who loves to garden, but hates the pain it causes.
1. Energy conservation - Break your gardening tasks up into tasks of 30 minutes or less to ensure you have energy to finish what you need to get done without wiping yourself out for the next two days.
2. Engage in Stretch Breaks - The muscles you use in your back, legs and arms are challenged by having to maintain awkward static positions and your hands and wrists are often grasping tools and plants while conducting repetitive tasks. It's important to stretch those muscles to offer relief and prevent stiffness and muscle fatigue
3. Drink plenty of water - While gardening bring out a water bottle of cold water to keep you hydrated and to keep your joints lubricated as you work. Remember if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
4. Sit on garden stool - For those who have difficulty getting on or off your knees, the tendency is usually to stand and bend from the hips to reach the plants or ground you are working on. This position creates undue forces on your lower spine and can cause low back muscle strain and aggravate the discs between your vertebrae. Instead purchase a small stool to sit on as you plant or tend to your flowers to prevent low back musculoskeletal injuries.
5. Raise your garden - One of the best ways to prevent the bending and reaching that often causes back pain is to raise your garden bed. This is easily achieved by building a 2-3 foot border with wood or bricks around your garden and filling with the appropriate soil for your gardening zone. Planting in raised beds allows you to sit on your stool or mobility device and reduce the physical demands on your body.
6. Use hose with holes for watering - Gardeners can spend a lot of time watering their plants, especially during a dry season. Instead of lugging watering jugs outside, (which aggravates your shoulders and upper back) use an old hose, lay it alongside your garden and puncture holes along its length to squirt out water, eliminating the need to walk around grasping the spray nozzle and having to wrestle with the knots in the hose as you pull it along.
7. Use proper body mechanics- If you are using wheeled carts for transporting tools or plants, push instead of pull where you can, as pulling a cart behind you can cause injury to your shoulders. When using standing tools like a rake or hoe or claw, stand with feet shoulder width apart, one in front of the other and bend your legs while using your upper leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks) instead of standing with straight legs and bending or twisting at your low back.
8. Hire help for the tough stuff- Although we would like to say we can do it all, doing it all sometimes does us in. Where possible hire someone to do the most physically demanding working like mowing the lawn or turning the garden beds in the spring. Save your energy for the fun tasks like planting, watering, and pruning, which will give you the gratification only fellow gardeners can appreciate, without the aches and pains.
Marnie Courage. OT Reg. (MB)