I’ve seen a lot of gardening injuries over the Spring as everyone gets out after a long (and usually sedentary!) winter and starts digging heavy waterlogged soil, raking up the spring grass, and planting the veg patch. Gardeners are particularly vulnerable to specific problems and in this blog I’ll explain some of the common ones I’ve seen a lot of in the past few months.
Firstly, most of us would remember to warm up if we are going for a jog or playing tennis, but how many of you warm up before digging a patch or lifting some heavy bags of compost? Muscles work best when warm, so try taking a brisk 10 minute walk before you start. Likewise a simple stretching routine for the back and hips before you start each session will ensure joints are mobile before you start, to help reduce the chance of injury. Why not make sure your back is strong and flexible ready for the spring, by enrolling in a yoga or pilates class over the winter – you’ll reap the benefits in the warmer months!
When digging, always try to bend the knees rather than the back, so that the large thigh muscles take the weight and your back is more protected. Don’t over- reach – especially when shovelling – its better to take a step forward to empty the load safely.
A recent study by the Royal Horticultural Society found that digging with poor technique can double the load on joints, with the low back being especially vulnerable. Here is a link to the article in the Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/08/digging-garden-wrong-way-can-put-joints-risk-rhs-warns/
When bending forwards at the hips or kneeling for any length of time- for example when kneeling down planting seedlings – be aware that your hip flexor muscles are in their shortest position. Any sudden lengthening of a short, relaxed muscle can cause a muscle spasm. Always move slowly and carefully out of this shortened position, especially if the weather is cold or you’ve been in the same position for some time. A sudden onset psoas muscle spasm is probably the most common problem I have seen this spring. It causes sudden back pain and a feeling the back has “gone”, its hard to fully straighten up and it may also give hip or groin pain. The good news is, its easily fixed, so come in as soon as you can.
And lastly I must mention head position. Gardening often involves lengthy periods bending over things with our heads forward of the shoulders. For every 1 inch the head comes forwards, an extra 10 lb is added to the weight the neck muscles have to carry – often leading to neck pain, shoulder stiffness and even headaches. So try to be aware of your head and neck posture, take frequent breaks and give your neck a good stretch by tucking your chin towards your chest and lengthening the back of your neck.
Most of all – have fun getting out in the fresh air and enjoy all that lovely fresh produce you’ll be growing!