back care for gardeners

Lower Back Pain from Gardening? These Tips Will Help!

Fun and rewarding, gardening is a great activity for relieving stress, getting exercise and feeling a real sense of accomplishment. The Victory Garden is a concept that has been growing in popularity through 2020. It’s prompted many first-time gardeners to create their own food garden as a hobby and in some cases, as emergency preparation.

Gardening is also a common source of  back pain and neck pain and one of the main reasons why patients come to see Dr. Stephanie Louie during spring and summer. If you have spent the day bent over sowing seeds and weeding weeds, you might find that you have an aching back or tight shoulders at the end of the day. Gardening doesn’t have to hurt, and there is a correct way to go about preventing stress and strain on your muscles, joints, and spine.

Dr. Louie can help prevent and treat pain, so you can play in the dirt free of discomfort.

Before You Pick Up Your Shovel

Find a flat surface and do some warming up with light stretches. Cat cow is a great stretch for loosening the ligaments and joints in the lower back. Warming up will get your blood flowing and your muscles primed for the work they have ahead of them. Your warm-up can include wobbling on your wobble chair, walking around the yard or the neighbourhood, doing a few sun salutations, jumping jacks, running around with your kids or whatever you like.

The goal is to warm up so you’re not forcing or shocking your muscles before they’re ready. A strong core is essential for lower back health, so it’s important to keep it engaged when lifting, bending and pulling, and work on keeping your core steady. This will help with balance as well, reducing the risk of injury. For a strong core and a stable lower back, try these three exercises for your core.

While You’re Elbow Deep in Soil

Take regular breaks to stretch and have some water. Be aware of your posture including whether you’re hunched over, only using one side to shovel or carry tools, or whether you’re lifting with your back. Being mindful of your body’s positioning will go a long way towards avoiding aches and pains later.

Other Tips for Maintaining Healthy Posture While Gardening:

  • Use knee pads, kneelers, or chairs
  • While kneeling, use one knee at a time to avoid putting too much strain on your lower back
  • For heavier objects like bags of soil, squat, keep your back straight and lift close to your body
  • Lift with your knees and avoid reaching overhead whenever possible
  • Use longer handled tools to reduce the need to bend forward
  • Try wall gardening/standing gardening
  • Use raised beds
  • Mulch your garden beds generously to help stop weeds from spreading. This means you’ll spend less time bent over pulling weeds.
  • While shovelling, use your feet to turn your body, rather than twisting with your upper body
  • Try shovelling and using tools with both sides of your body. This uses the left and right side evenly and as a bonus, creates new neural pathways in your brain
  • Use tools like a wheelbarrow to lighten the load
  • Garden for half an hour at a time with short breaks in between to stretch and re-centre yourself

After You’re Done for the Day

When you’re finished, do some basic stretches and a bit of a cool down. Depending on what you have been doing in the garden and how long you were out there, you may even want to go for a short walk afterwards. The goal here is to stretch out the muscles that may have tightened up while you were doing more strenuous things like digging up rocks or pulling up deeply rooted weeds. The more physical exertion, the more you need to give your body the chance to recover. You will also want to take this time to do any exercises that have been specifically recommended for you.

Yoga for Gardeners

A low-impact exercise such as yoga is perfect for before or after gardening since it provides a gentle stretch that can be as easy or difficult as you choose. Using purposeful movements, yoga works your back, legs, core and entire body to help tone and strengthen your muscles and loosen joints. Yoga also promotes balance and flexibility. This is ideal for preventing falls when you’re reaching over for that last cherry tomato or reaching overhead to pick the first apple of the season.

Treating Back Pain

Sometimes, despite your best efforts you can wind up with back and shoulder pain after doing a strenuous activity. To find the source of the problem and to prevent discomfort in the future, Dr. Louie recommends contacting the clinic for a consultation.

In the meantime, a warm bath, hot or cold compress, a soothing rub, or even some Tylenol or Advil can relieve soreness. If back pain turns into tingling, or numbness in the buttocks or legs, this can indicate there is too much pressure on one or more of the lumbar discs. This can cause sciatic pain, which may need to be treated by a chiropractor.

Just like your garden, your body and spine need regular maintenance and care to help it thrive. If you have had trouble with back pain in the past or are brand new to gardening, see your Chiropractor for a professional assessment. They can help make sure you’re stretching effectively and using the correct posture.

For a total body approach to Chiropractic health, trust Dr. Stephanie Louie.  Spinal care is key to a healthy body and sound mind. Mind Body Spine provides total body care, from the initial assessment to treatment, nutritional counselling, personalized exercise recommendations—a full scope of support to treat and prevent injury. For more tips on strengthening your core to lessen your back pain, book an appointment online at our clinic in Victoria, BC, or give us a call at 250-885-2320.