With summer in full swing, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors. Of course, you’ll want your yard in top shape, but not at the expense of your back. Gardening and yardwork don’t have to be painful. Follow these tips to help protect your back so you can enjoy the summer.
Water doesn’t just cool you down when it’s hot outside. Staying hydrated will help decrease soreness by flushing out any inflammatory chemicals built up during gardening activities. Keep a water bottle nearby.
Sit up straight
Any time you’re working in the yard, be conscious of your posture. Always keep your back straight and do not stoop forward. Don’t slump when riding a tractor or riding mower. When using a self-propelled mower, lean into the handlebar and keep your spine straight.
Protect your back and your knees
Instead of pivoting from your hips to lean over a planter or garden bed, squat using your legs. If squatting is too difficult, sit on your knees, as kneeling on one knee is much better than standing and bending from your back. Find cheap knee pads at any sporting goods store to use in the garden. If you can’t squat or kneel, I recommend garden stools or rolling carts as they help you avoid stooping and falls.
Take a break
You don’t have to complete your project in one day or even one weekend. Break up your project into manageable pieces and build in breaks. Even if you’re sitting on a mower or garden stool, I recommend taking a break from your activity every 40 minutes. Stand up, stretch and walk around. The spine doesn’t want to stay in one position for too long. Breaks will help you avoid future soreness.
In between breaks in yard work, take a few minutes to stretch and counteract that seated posture. Try a back bend – while standing, put your hands on your hips and stretch backward, pushing your hips forward. Do 10 of these before returning to your activity.
After a long day of working in the yard, I recommend lying on your stomach and propping up on your elbows, similar to a cobra pose. Hold this for 30 seconds. Roll onto your back and hug both your knees for 30 seconds. Staying on your back, place your feet on the floor and sway your knees gently from side to side, 10 times to the left and 10 times to the right.
I also recommend stretching your hamstrings. The safest way is to lie on your back, put your hands behind your knee, then slowly straighten your leg up. This way you stretch your hamstrings but your back stays supported. Hold each leg for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
These stretches will help balance out the position of the spine and help prevent and reduce soreness. Remember, stretching should be gentle, not hurtful.
Ice is much better than heat after working in the yard. Ice your back for 20-30 minutes to decrease blood flow and reduce inflammation caused from bending. Don’t use any heat after gardening because your muscles are already warmed up from the physical activity and can make the tissues swell.
Following these tips will help keep your back strong for those summer plans. Remember your back while you are working the yard and you won’t have to think about it when it hurts the next day.
-Matt Kellar, Physical Therapist
This article originally appeared in Southern Distinction.