Gardening is an excellent exercise and an enjoyable activity for most people, however it can become a real pain if not done carefully. Before you start, do a few warm-up stretches to loosen your muscles and joints. This will help prepare these areas for hard work and prevent injury. It will also decrease post-gardening soreness.
Be careful not to leave obstacles such as large bags of fertilizer, pots or tools in your work area, as these could cause falls or ankle sprains. Try to change your activities at least every 30 minutes. This prevents you from staying in one posture for a prolonged period, which will overwork and strain particular groups of muscles and ligaments. Give your muscles and joints regular breaks and they’ll be kind to you later.
If you have to do ground level gardening such as weeding, kneel down rather than bending over, as this decreases the chance of back injury. Kneeling however, can also be hard work on your knees and back, so you may need to place a cushion under your knees or use a kneeling apparatus. If you need to lean forward, place one hand on the ground to distribute your weight evenly. Try not to lean in from the edge of garden beds as this puts excessive strain on your low back and overworks the muscles in your legs and back. Instead, where possible, step into the garden bed to get close to your work.
When shoveling gravel or dirt from one area to another, don’t lean forward twisting and/or bending your back to produce the movement. Instead bend your knees adopting a lunging type posture, keeping your back fairly straight. Tightening your stomach muscles while you shovel will also give your back extra support.
Practice safe lifting while gardening. Position your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Keep your back relatively straight and bend at your hips and knees. This will enable you to use the large buttock and thigh muscles to perform the lift, rather than the small spinal muscles which are not designed for that purpose.
Make sure you have a firm grip on the object, as many lifting injuries are caused by the article slipping. The torsion forces involved in correcting the slip place undue strain on the spine and surrounding muscles. Hold objects close to your body when lifting, and lift slowly and smoothly, rather than jerking or twisting. This will ensure less strain is placed on your back.
Where possible avoid lifting by using a wheelbarrow to move heavy items such as bags of fertilizer or dirt. Position the load over the wheel and it will be easier to lift the back legs of the barrow. Heavy objects or items which are used frequently should be stored at a level between your waist and knees, not below knee level or overhead. This will allow you to avoid deep, low lifts and stretching to reach overhead objects.
If you have a work bench, it should be approximately waist height and the ground surrounding it should be clear. This will ensure that you don’t need to lean forwards over your work, leading to back strain problems. This is particularly important if you are going to be working for a prolonged period of time.
Equipment and tools should be in good repair and be of a size and weight that is comfortable for you to use. For example, if you use a pruning tool that is too large or has too much resistance for your grip, you could end up with tendonitis from muscular overuse. Use aids where possible such as wheelbarrows, and kneeling apparatus/mats.