Watch Your Back!

First things first. When I say “watch your back” I am not warning you about your spouse creeping up behind you while you are having a crafty snooze in the shed.

One To Avoid
One To Avoid

I am talking about looking after your precious spine, lower back muscles and more.

About this time of year we are getting into digging over vacant plots, protecting saplings and plants from the high winds we seem to get these days, pruning fruit trees or maybe wheeling barrows of compost and shovelling it onto the soil.

Every one of these jobs, if done without care, could cause problems. And, be honest, this time of year, after the yuletide festivities, we may have over-indulged, put on a couple of pounds and might not be at our fittest. All this can have an effect on your back.

Here are ten top-tips to help you dig, prune and lug without the strain.

  1. Warm up. Yes I know you’re not running a marathon but don’t launch yourself into the toughest job first. Ease into it. Try to do maybe 10-15 minutes of gentle stretching and bending. Think about which parts of the body you will be using and flex and move them so they do not suffer from sudden impact.
  2. Once you are warm, make sure your back stays warm. Keep it wrapped up as you work. Wearing thermal clothing, or at least warm clothing that covers your lower back, even when you stretch or move, is a good idea.
  3. Don’t ever try to pick up a load by bending your back. The knees are where any bending should take place. Squatting using core muscles offers far more support to your spine and avoids you using your back like a lever, with the associated strain that puts on it. Lifting heavy buckets, sacks, concrete blocks or rockery rocks, shovels of rubble and soil, even lifting the handles of a full wheelbarrow – all are made easier by bending the knees, keeping the back straight and straightening upwards at a slow, even pace using the stomach muscles to support.
  4. If in doubt, think about a powered barrow or a garden trolley to take some of the strain.
  5. Have a look at your digging tools. Do they need replacing? That old spade or fork that you inherited from your Dad maybe a trusted friend but it could also be one that is about to give you splinters or damage your back. Look at the state of the handle and the shaft and work out if a new, modern tool might be useful. Try here for a shiny new spade.
  6. There are lots of long handled and lightweight tools out there and ergonomics are more important in tool design than ever before. Why not think about replacing your tools with ergonomic versions, designed for your well being.
  7. Are you stretching too much when you prune? Overreaching to attempt to reach high or difficult to access branches can cause serious problems with upper back muscles. Think about long reach pruners or loppers, or even long reach hedge trimmers, enabling you to lop branches without over stretching. The same goes for weeding. Don’t over reach.
  8. Regular breaks. Don’t pile through hours of heavy work without regular breaks. Try having a break, or at the very least, changing the activity, at least every fifteen to twenty minutes. This will give your muscles time to recover and you time to breathe normally.
  9. If you are turning over, or cultivating, a large area, it might be worth investing in a powered tiller or cultivator. You can see some examples here.
  10. When weeding or planting, try to use a kneeling pad to reduce strain on your knees. Some of these have handles, so you can raise yourself without bending. This will help enormously. Again, don’t spend too long on your knees and take regular breaks.

Ultimately you should enjoy your gardening experience, whether you are hobbyist or pro, lawn enthusiast or rockery fanatic, flowers and plant person or trying to grow food for your table, so remember to take care of your back in the garden and it will take care of you.

Drew Hardy






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