experiencing back pain while gardening

Clean Up Your Yard For Winter Without Lower Back Injury

Lower back injuries are a fact of life and are common among people of all ages. However, you can do your best to avoid them by following a few simple steps to support the joints and muscles of your lower back.

Another area that is commonly strained or overworked are the shoulders. Be sure to read and follow these tips from Dr. Stephanie Louie of Mind Body Spine chiropractic, to treat your back and shoulders with care this autumn.

With the fall season upon us, what can you do to help your lower back muscles while raking and gardening? The autumn clean-up tends to use a different set of muscles, since raking and piling leaves and branches uses a much broader range of motion than planting seeds or thinning out rows of seasonal vegetables.

With these tips, you can enjoy outdoor activities without the risk of straining your lower back muscles.

What Causes Lower Back Strain and Injury?

One of the biggest factors is your lifestyle. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, this may affect your lower back muscles. 

Sitting for long periods can weaken your core muscles and gluteal muscles. Sitting for long periods can also weaken your hip flexor muscles. It’s important to consider that the weakening of the hip flexor muscle may lead to potential hip joint issues, which can increase lower back pain as the body becomes off balance and joints become irritated and inflamed.

Because the core muscles, gluteal muscles and hip flexor muscles contribute to a strong lower back, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes diet and to stay as active as possible. Try these three core exercises to build up your strength.

Leading an active lifestyle can drastically help your existing mobility and reduce daily aches and pains. Try moving around for at least 60 minutes a day. However, be realistic with how much your body can do, and what you’d like to achieve. Overdoing it can lead to injury as well, so if you’ve had a sedentary few weeks, resist the temptation to spend hours gardening or raking leaves. Try to do an hour or so at a time, stretching before and after activity. 

Stretch Your Tight Muscles

Stretching your lower back muscles before and after yard cleanup can dramatically reduce strain and injury for your lower back muscles. That is why it’s important to do active stretching before and static stretching after your raking and gardening activities. Taking breaks to stretch is a great idea as well.

When you’re stretching, make slow and controlled movements. Hold each position for at least 20-30 seconds. Remember, stretching should never be painful. Practice shoulder rotations, trunk rotations, and heel/toe stands.

These should help you move easier while keeping muscles relaxed and flexible. Stretching properly should keep joints mobile and relieve tight muscles. It also helps to drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks to avoid sore muscles.

Remember to listen to your body. If something hurts, stop doing it and take a breather or choose a lower impact activity like going for a walk or doing some yoga.

The Right Tools for the Right Activity

Generally speaking, tools should reduce the work for your body. 

Try keeping tools and supplies within reach. Wearing an apron with pockets for your tools can save time and potential strain by overreaching or searching through your garden for those shears you put down at some point.

Choose Tools that Fit You

If you find that you are bending over or reaching too far while raking leaves or hoeing, find an ergonomic tool (rake, spade, hoe) that suits your height, or cut the wooden handle down to a size that better suits your stature. Take the time to find lightweight, good quality tools that fit you. Not only will it be easier on your lower back and shoulders, but on your knees, wrists and hands as well.

Find a Comfortable Position for Weeding, Planting and Pruning

While weeding or planting, avoid bending from the waist. Squatting or kneeling on a foam kneeling pad will give your back, legs, and knees a much-needed break. Rather than bending over, try sitting down on the ground while using a trowel. For a good stretch in your hip flexors, you can even try sitting cross legged for a short time while weeding or planting bulbs.

If you’re digging or shoveling, keep your back straight and your knees bent. Avoid twisting motions, and always use a wheelbarrow for heavy loads. Lift small amounts at a time and spread the heavy lifting tasks over time. If a full wheelbarrow is too difficult to maneuver, try moving a half load at a time. Also, make sure those wheels are fully inflated so the wheelbarrow or cart can be easily moved.

Also, when pruning or trimming, avoid reaching past stable footing. Always choose tools that are the right size and feel comfortable in your hands.

Lift With the Right Muscles

It’s important to remember to lift with your knees, and never lift with your back. Avoid twisting or reaching when lifting. Always be aware of your own limits and ask for help when needed.

Another important thing to note is to keep your core tight when lifting heavy loads. By utilizing your abdominal muscles, you can potentially save yourself from future back issues. 

Don’t Let a Pile of Leaves Injure Your Lower Back

When raking and gardening, it’s important to find a place and position that feels comfortable for your body. Pace yourself by spreading the variety of tasks over a period of time. You can avoid repetitive injuries by rotating tasks and completing different activities over time, using both sides of your body.

If you end up straining or injuring your lower back, ice packs can help reduce swelling and bring some relief. Drawing a warm, relaxing bath with Epsom salts can help tremendously as well.

If your body still has a moderate level of discomfort after a few days, contact Mind Body Spine in Victoria, BC to find out more about relieving your pain and improving your mobility. With our help, you can build strength, improve your balance, and your cardiovascular function. Dr. Louie and her chiropractic team at Mind Body Spine can help with a safe and effective treatment. Dr. Louie will also work with you to reach your healthcare goals with exercise, nutrition counselling, and support for a truly well-rounded treatment plan.