Yavapai Regional Medical Center
Garden from a neutral, balanced position and work below shoulder level to avert injuries.
Gardening can be fun, healthy and rewarding for people of just about any age. It provides not just physical activity but a sense of accomplishment. In spring and summer, many of us head outdoors to create a vegetable garden, plant flowers, or keep the yard trim. Before we do, it's a good thing to know a little about the importance of ergonomics.
Gardening is not something we train for. We simply go out on a weekend and start digging without thinking much about the right or wrong way to do it. Learning a little about body mechanics can prevent possible pain and injury. It can also help you get more done with less expenditure of energy.
According to Al Peraza, physical therapist at Yavapai Regional Medical Center, there are three basic areas to be aware of when gardening that can help you avoid stress and injury to the body:
First, avoid working in an awkward posture. If you find yourself bending over or twisting your body while you work, you could put abnormal stress on your back, hips, knees and even your wrists and hands.
"Think about posture and balance. Find a more neutral position. Avoid having to reach very far to lift, adjust or position something," Peraza says.
He suggests working below shoulder level when possible to avoid strain on your back and shoulders. If you must work above shoulder level, take frequent breaks to stretch your neck and back muscles. Switch to another activity for a few minutes before returning to your over-head work.
Second, avoid excessive loads. In gardening, people are often moving heavy loads of dirt or fifty-pound bags of fertilizer or planting soil. All it takes is to push your muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments beyond their capacities, and you have a problem.
"Use a dolly or wheelbarrow to move heavy things," Peraza suggests. "Even if it's only being moved a few feet, a heavy load can take a tremendous toll and the cumulative effect of many short lifts can add up to an injury."
Third, be aware of repetitive motion, even when that motion is slight and seemingly easy to do. Using the same muscles over and over to accomplish a repetitive task puts more stress on the affected area than we usually realize. Over-use can cause swelling and inflammation that accelerates wear, causing pain and eventual injury.
Weeding can be a repetitive motion task. Instead of tackling a large area in a single day, divide the area by half or fourths and spread the job over successive days, with plenty of breaks in between. This gives the muscles, joints and tendons time to cool down and for normal blood flow to be restored - keeping tissues healthy.
"Say, for example, you're landscaping with heavy pavers," Peraza continues. "If you're bending over, reaching for the paver at arms length, doing this same thing over and over, you have all three of these areas of concern hitting at once.
"Think about leverage. Change position, get the load closer to your body, use both arms and keep the back straight. It puts much less strain on your shoulders and back and there's less of a chance of injury."
The better you are at taking care of your body, of avoiding trauma and stress, the longer the body will last.
"Listen to your body," Peraza says. "If something causes pain, stop doing it. Find a better way."