Your spine is an incredible piece of natural engineering. It does a great deal of work, supporting your head, giving you core strength, responding flexibly so you can carry out a variety of different movements. But it needs looking after and protecting, even as you work. The same goes for your lower and upper back muscles.
So many of the tasks we attempt in the garden, weeding, digging, hoeing, pruning, involve stretching, bending and lifting, all of which can cause back problems if not carried out correctly.
Wheelbarrows, strimmers, shovels, secateurs, and lawn mowers are all useful tools, designed to help us around the garden or plot. However, incorrect use of these tools, without proper technique and care and attention, can lead to long-term and problems, even permanent damage.
So here are ten tips, designed to make you think twice before you bend rashly or throw yourself into a job.
- Do a warm up. It may seem like overkill and we know you're not an Olympic athlete or a professional dancer, but any physical task from dancing on 'Strictly' to running for the bus can have an ill effect if you are not fit or properly warmed up, particularly in cold weather. Just ten to fifteen minutes of gentle stretching and very gentle bending, from your core, will make it so much easier. Think about what muscles and joints you will be using and give them a really gentle workout so they can take the impact of whatever task you are about to take on.
- Keep your back warm while working. When you have warmed up your muscles and back, keep them warm. Wear warm clothes, thermals if possible and make sure your lower back stays covered. Cap sleeved teeshirts and bravado have no place in the garden in cold weather. Obviously, if the sun is beating down, adjust your clothing but until it does, stay covered.
- Don't bend your back when lifting. This advice is as old as the hills but it's remarkable how many people forget it. Don't pick up anything remotely heavy buy bending your back. Keep your back straight and bend your legs to take the weight. It's the law of levers. Your core strength should be created by squatting, using your stomach muscles, supported by your thighs and calves. The knees are the only joint where bending should happen. This even goes for lifting buckets of water or compost, concrete blocks and bricks, It is unwise to bend to pick anything heavier than a trowel unless you have to
- Think about your transportation. If you can use a wheelbarrow, fine (don't forget to bend those knees and not the back though). Just make sure it's a good one. However, there is nothing wrong with using some sort of mechanised garden trolley or cart. Powered barrows can be very useful if you have seriously heavy loads to transport across your property. If you have a ride-on with a tow hitch, you might think about a trailer for it.
- Have a good look at your garden tools. Are they old? Are they going to give you splinters or hand strain? More importantly, are they going to lead to back pain? You may have been bequeathed trusty old tools by your Granddad but modern tools are strong, designed for comfort and correct usage, keeping the body in alignment. They will, more often than not these days, be made with comfort grips and materials included to make working easier on your hands and body. Many tools now are ergonomically designed, lightweight but strong, with longer handles to keep you upright and protect your back, shaped handles to help your hands and arms avoid strain. Think about purchasing ergonomic tools. Your spade, fork, rake or hoe are essential tools in the garden so make sure they are good ones.
- Don't overstretch. Like trying to get those elusive, just out of reach blackberries, the ones that look so much better than the near ones, it's very tempting to think you can stretch out and just reach that distant branch to prune it. but overstretching can cause some serious issues with your upper back, pulling or even tearing the muscles. Think about investing in some long reach pruners, loppers or hedge-cutters.
- Kneel to weed. Think very carefully about how you do your close up weeding. Don't bend unless you have to (see tip 3) Better to bring something comfortable to kneel on into the garden, either a dedicated garden kneeler, which will often have armrests or handles for support and to push up on when getting up, or a kneeling pad or even an old cushion. If your knees can't take it, think about an extended weeding tool.
- Take a break. Like any job, achieving optimum efficiency in the garden can be helped by taking regular breaks and chopping and changing tasks regularly to avoid repetitive strains. Try to have a short break or a change of job about every fifteen minutes. This is more important with very arduous chores, will help your breathing and give your muscles time to recover.
- Power cultivating. if you have a lot of cultivating or digging to do and it seems a daunting task, it might be worth thinking about buying a powered tiller. These can be very affordable and could definitely help with the back strain issues.
- Stay hydrated. Believe it or not, dehydration can lead to back pain, especially when you are working hard so DO make sure you have a good supply of drinking water with you, wherever you are working. Even on cold days, water is essential. Try to eat as well, so many people become exhausted by forgetting about meals in the garden or on an allotment and tiredness can lead to carelessness when working, again risking injury on your back.
If you follow these simple tips, you will have an easier, more enjoyable and, hopefully, back-pain free time in your garden or on your plot. Don't forget to visit these pages if you want to look at any of the ranges equipment I have mentioned, or call us on 0345 4588 905 (9am-5pm Mon-Fri & 10am-4pm Sat) if you need any help or advice from our product experts.