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Are Yard Work And Gardening Injuries Inevitable This Spring?

gardening blog

Crouching, bending and lifting: Yard work and gardening is the new trendy at-home workout.

Gardening is a rewarding hobby and a passion, and with spring arriving with summer hot on its way, the time to get outside to tidy the yard and plant is finally here! Don’t let pain prevent you from continuing to enjoy your daily activities and hobbies. Physical therapy, a consistent exercise routine, and a moderate work plan can help you get through this spring’s yard work and garden safely and avoid long-term complications like arthritis and rotator cuff tears.

The therapeutic benefits of getting outside and into the yard and garden are numerous. Professionals cite that people who take time to tend their outdoor areas and care for plants tend to be more at ease in other aspects of their lives. In addition to a sense of pride in your space, gardening tends to release stress, stimulate the senses, improve creativity, promote pleasant emotions, and improve motor skills. However, to reduce the risk of injury or pain- whether you are uprooting begonias or shoveling topsoil, make sure you are taking the necessary precautions to garden safely.

How Gardening Affects Your Body

Yard cleanup and gardening involve many repetitive activities such as bending, kneeling, digging, reaching, and carrying plants and soil. Bending can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain, and kneeling for long periods can cause knee pain. In addition, many gardens and yards are built on uneven terrain, so strength and stability are essential to avoid injuries.

 As we age, we tend to lose the ability to perform repetitive activities for long periods. While yard work and gardening can be good exercise, overuse of muscles and stress on joints might lead to pain, stiffness, and long-term injury if gardeners do not keep in good physical shape and learn to move in a healthy way.

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Pain From Yard Work

If you experience pain after gardening, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other over-the-counter pain relievers could help with gardening pain temporarily. However, these drugs may lose their effectiveness over time and cause side effects such as stomach upset. 

Rather than depending on pain relievers, consider your overall physical fitness plan and how you move to help your body heal and protect your joints and muscles from future damage. 

Tips for Managing Pain

Take Breaks

In many cases, the pain gets worse when you overwork muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Since many yard work and gardening tasks require you to do the same activity repeatedly, stopping for a few minutes here and there can give your body time to recover. Your muscles can become sore if they do not receive enough oxygen. Slowing down and breathing deeply can help you recharge.

Hydrate

Dehydration will make you more susceptible to heat, causing muscle pain, cramping, and worse. Keep plenty of water with you when you’re outside, and keep track of how much you drink while you are out there. When possible, work in the shade to minimize water loss through sweating.

Use Ice

If you have sore muscles, rest and press an ice pack against them to reduce swelling and ease tenderness. Icing your muscles for twenty minutes or so will make them feel better and give you a chance to recuperate.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy restores range of motion and helps muscles heal for pain that does not respond to at-home treatments. Physical therapy exercises can target strains, tension, and repetitive motion injuries from gardening. In addition, an expert physical therapist near you can determine your body’s unique needs and work with you to make adjustments and create a plan to keep you strong and limber.

Tips for Avoiding Pain

Stretch Before You Get Going On The Yard Work

Following a stretching routine before you garden is one way to make your muscles more resilient and reduce the risk of injury. In physical therapy, your therapist might recommend specific stretches. That said, take a few minutes to cool down with some light stretches after gardening too. Stretching helps make your muscles and joints more flexible and less prone to injury.

Vary Your Gardening Routine

If you have many tasks to perform during each gardening session, frequently switch from one to another. Different yard work and gardening activities often rely on various muscles and muscle groups, so switching gives your muscles time to recover.

Push-Pull-Carry

While strong core muscles help you maintain good posture while gardening and reduce stress on your back, hips, and legs, before you move a heavier item or load, remember the push-pull-carry philosophy. It is a hierarchy of how you move something. Push first. If you can’t push it, then pull. Lastly, if pulling isn’t getting the job done, then carry. Not only should this help reduce shear forces and wear on the knees, but it also will help to take the load off of your spine. Sometimes the biggest help here is taking a breath and assessing what is going to be the safest and most efficient approach to accomplishing your task.

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Lift Better

Have you heard the old adage ‘lift with your legs?’ You might also want to include the glutes as well.
Direction

Check that you are squared up to the load that you are about to lift. No matter if this is a rock, the leaf catcher, or a bag of soil, keep it close to your body. Your breast bone should be directly facing the item throughout. Make sure to point your toes and step toward the desired landing spot. Injuries happen when your hips and upper body move in different directions.

Shoveling

Just like when you’re lifting, square up to your target. When moving or tossing soil, leaves, or other bundles, point your lead foot in a shallow lunge movement flow toward the landing spot.

Hips Don’t Lie

Hip strength and able mobility can take significant pressure and subsequent pain out of the knees and also the knee cap. A skilled physical therapist near you will not only assess your hips but also, depending on your specific needs, let you know the individualized exercises that will strengthen your weaknesses and reduce the chance of injury.

Use Proper Equipment

Start with a good kneeling mat or pair of knee pads that will help not only with comfort but will allow you to get into areas where it is otherwise difficult to crouch. Gloves will protect hands and reduce the chance of dropping heavy loads, while rakes, shovels, etc., should be appropriately sized for safe use. Take advantage of wheeled haulers for yard work- rubbish bins, wheelbarrows, and carts to move debris and plants- if you don’t have to lift or drag, avoid it.

Overcoming Yard Work and Gardening Pain With Physical Therapy

If you have pain from gardening and yard work that does not go away or is severe enough to interfere with your daily activities, make sure to keep your body in tip-top shape and prevent injury, awareness is critical. 

It is natural to experience increasing aches and pains as you get older, but that does not mean that pain is unavoidable. With the right combination of effective physical therapy, strengthening exercises, and mobility, you can continue to enjoy the active lifestyle that you love- including gardening, yard work, and other outdoor hobbies.

Did these tips help bring you even 10% relief? If so, you would greatly benefit from a FREE, 1-on-1 assessment of your individual body so you can enjoy outdoor yard work and gardening!

At Healthy Consumer Physical Therapy, our therapists encourage patients to listen to their bodies. Pain is designed to alert you when something is wrong before it becomes a chronic problem, and we advocate seeking help early on. We can discuss concerns, set goals, develop an individual, comprehensive plan, and work on executing for long-term improvement. In addition, patients are given instruction on ways to incorporate additional exercises and stretches at home to improve strength, stability, and range of motion.

Chris S
AUTHOR

Dr. Chris Sovey

Healthy Consumer PT

"We Help Adults 40+ Living With Pain, Stiffness, Or Loose Joints Get Healthy, Age Stronger, And Get Back To The Activities They Love, Even If Past Treatments Have Failed"

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