For some of us, winter is a much needed break and the part of farming we see as necessary down time. For others, the only thing that gets us through winter is looking forward to spring. And when that time of year comes, when a gardener’s thoughts turn to digging, planting and preparing the garden for the bounty of summer, she’ll put away the seed catalogs, buy a new pair of gloves and get back into the gardening swing of things.
The response to going full-on like that is likely to be “Ouch!” as muscles and joints used to lazy days by the fire are called back into action. According to chiropractors, the most common injuries involve the back and a significant number of these injuries occur while gardening – and after the winter lull these injuries spike among gardeners.
It’s not surprising because gardening – even on a balcony – involves a lot of bending and heavy lifting. Ceramic and concrete pots, soil and compost, and various items of garden furniture are just some of the hazards gardeners face. Unless you can hire a team, it usually means stress on your body. And a body that hasn’t been warmed up to the task is likely to protest very loudly.
One way to keep in shape and avoid injury is to join a gym during the winter months and work some weights. Keeping limber and fit will mean you won’t be imposing unexpected strain on inactive muscles and joints. Another safety tip is to learn to lift weights correctly while squatting down and using your legs – not your back – to raise heavy objects off the ground. If this is hard on your knees, be sensible – get a two-wheeled trolley to move heavy things or call on someone to assist you. Being stubborn and insisting on doing it yourself could lead to a visit to the chiropractor – and this is already their busiest time of year.
Another hazard is repetitive strain injury, which doesn’t just affect office workers at their desks. It can be caused by any task that forces the body to maintain a single ask for hours. Bending over a rake or a shovel without respite puts a gardener at serious risk of repetitive strain injury. Kneeling in the flower beds digging holes with a hand trowel and planting seedlings has the same effect with added strain on your knees and wrists
It is essential to keep changing and varying tasks so that there is no repetitive strain on the body. Fortunately, gardening offers many ways to do this. Do some standing tasks like potting up seedlings and use a padded kneeler for planting seedlings in the ground. You can do away with kneeling altogether, saving long-term damage to your knees, by putting in raised garden beds. But again, do not spend all your time in the garden bending over the plants. Take frequent breaks and take time to have a good stretch.
If you can’t get to a gym to warm up for spring, find some good warm-up exercises on the internet and make sure you do at least 10 minutes before you start gardening. It will be worth it to know you have lessened your chances of falling foul of a garden injury, so you will be able to enjoy the results of working in your garden all year round.