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Gardening Ergonomics: How to Save Your Back and Knees While You Plant Your Trees!!

Gardening season is upon us and it is important to protect your body while keeping your home beautiful. There are many different projects that need to be tackled in the garden, and you want to make sure that you feel good at the end of the day so that you can sit back and enjoy your hard work. It is not uncommon to have sore muscles after beginning to work on the garden after a long winter. With that in mind, we have provided tips to keep in mind when tending to your garden.  First, do your research and make sure that you have all the proper tools before you start any project, even if you are a seasoned gardener there may be new tools and techniques that can make a job easier.

Some common injuries sustained while gardening are low back strain/pain, knee bursitis, and shoulder impingement. Activities such as digging, raking and weeding, can strain the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the back. This can cause the muscles of the back to go into spasm resulting in pain and stiffness.  Take regular breaks from activities which involve repetitive movement. In addition, it is also important to make sure that your abdominal muscles are engaged while performing these activities; this ensures that your core is helping to support your back.

Gardeners are also prone to knee pain and have an increased likelihood of experiencing bursitis of the knee because of repetitive pressure placed upon the area during kneeling activities, such as planting and weeding. Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that are located around many joints, and their purpose is to reduce friction between tissues around the joints. Bursitis is inflammation of these bursa and can be very painful.  Using a soft foam pad or knee pads can help to take pressure off the knee while gardening.  Also taking plenty of breaks from kneeling will also help take the pressure off the bursa. It may also be prudent to have a small stool to sit on while weeding and planting, to avoid excess pressure on your knees especially if you already have a knee injury or ailment.

A third area in the body that tends to be a region prone to injury with gardening is the shoulder.  Gardening can lead to shoulder impingement because at times it involves frequent overhead arm motion during activities such as hedge clipping and chopping back undergrowth.  With overhead motion, the rotator cuff (RTC) tendons can become impinged under the acromion (which is the bone at the top of the shoulder) as you raise your arm up. To avoid shoulder impingement ,break up activities which involve repetitive overhead motion and/or sustained shoulder flexion (arm outstretched in front of your body for long periods of time).

When you are done with your gardening work for the day, be sure to pay attention to how your body is feeling. It is normal to have some sore muscles, but if your actual bony joints are sore then icing them for 10-15 minutes will help reduce some of the inflammation that may have been caused by the work that you did earlier.  Proactive care for your body while gardening will help you avoid gardening-related injuries.

So what are some ideas that you can implement while gardening?  Here is a list of a few common gardening chores with some suggestions as to good postures and habits to make sure that you feel your best after you go to work in your garden.

Pruning bushes

  • Make sure that you have the appropriate sized hedge clippers for the job that you are doing.
  • Stand with good posture, keeping your shoulders down and back will help you avoid your RTC being impinged.
  • Although standing with good posture is impossible to do the entire time, be sure to break up clipping the hard to reach places with ones that are easier. Don’t spend longer than 5 minutes in an awkward position.

Mulching

  • Make sure that you have the proper equipment:  a wheelbarrow, shovel and rake
  • When lifting a bag of mulch or dumping mulch down from wheelbarrow, squat down using your legs; do not bend at your waist.
  • When raking the mulch, keep your core engaged to support your back, do this by drawing in your stomach muscles towards your spine without holding your breath.

Weeding

  • Wear knee pads and have a stool on hand to sit on. Rotating between kneeling and sitting can take pressure off of your knees.
  • While kneeling, keep your core muscles engaged to help support your back.


Happy Gardening!