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Tips to prevent gardening injuries in Seattle

Spring is upon us, It is that time of the year when many of us Pacific Northwesterners come out of hibernation / indoor activities and start spending more time outside, start working out in the yard, give our lawns and plants the makeover they deserve and plan to plant our flowers and vegetables gardens.

I won’t give you plant and shrubs advice here. You need to ask Ciscoe Morris for that.

No matter if you live in Seattle or the tropics, gardening is a physical activity and requires some physical preparation and consideration in order to prevent an injury (traumatic or repetitive) that could sideline us all spring and/or summer long.
Knee and hip pain, strained and sore back are all too common, especially often following little or no physical activities in winter months. Your body, including muscles, tendons and joints, have to somewhat relearn these movement and positions that are specific to gardening…especially if you don’t work on keeping up with the mobility of your joints necessary for these movement in particular.
Here is a compilation of important things to consider before you return to your beloved gardening without worrying about the aches, pain and soreness the days after.
1.Warming up and stretching is very important.
Gardening involves many varied and at times awkward positions while lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching. Your body is not necessarily used to these new positions and stretching your chest, shoulders, back and legs before you get started can reduce the risk of pain or injury later. I would recommend returning to these 2-3 weeks before you even think of starting to garden. Working on your back and pelvis mobility particularly will be of great help. Each body has specific needs when it comes to mobility and flexibility and knowing/ identifying what your body needs is something a physical therapist can help you with.

 2.Stay Hydrated. 
Gardening being a physical activity, it is important to make sure you drink enough and stay hydrated. Even more so on these hot summer days and working in direct sunlights for several hours. Water will help you stay cool and is important for normal muscles use. Wearing a hat is a must in summer.

3.Taking rest break is a good thing
If you’re working on one project and are stuck in one position, make sure you change position every 15-20 minutes.  Same advice as I would give someone that sits at work for 8 hours. 
Pacing your activity. You need to be realistic about what you can accomplish in one day and so don’t try to do it all.
​Listen to your body in regards to exertion and fatigue. Fatigue often lead to injury and so don’t ignore it.

4.Use the right tools and equipment
Using improper/ ill fitting tools leads to repetitive injury like strains. So make sure you use tools or equipment that take the load off you. For example, if you will be spending time on your hands and knees, using knee pads are highly recommended. A sitting stool can also be a good options….but still require that you get up and get out of that position every 20 minutes.
Using a lifting belt, wheeled barrel or cart and  ergonomically designed tools sound like common sense for certain tasks…but a reminder never hurts.

Find tools that fit your body, tools that you can grip normally, not through a wide grip: this tends to increase your chance of straining your wrist or your hand. Whenever you can, use tools you can wear like a backpack, or using a strap or use proper extension adapter. Tools with soft grip will also be more gentle on your hands and actually will help make task easier and decrease effort needed.When using power tools, make sure you wear adequate clothes and protection( gloves, google, close toe shoes always!…) and actually know how to use it properly. Traumatic gardening injuries are often involved power tools.

Gardening in flip-flops can actually be fairly dangerous as it exposes your toes and skin on top of poorly supporting your feet and ankle. Spraining your ankle while walking on grass or soft surface, and /or stepping in a hole, is also fairly common.
Another thing that will help reduce injury is modifying your garden appearance to make gardening easier- which is not always possible. For example, the use of elevated flower beds will likely the amount of repeated loaded bending you have to do, which reduces the chance of straining your back.
Repeated bending is not a bad thing though….as long as you know how to.  Which leads to my next point…

5.Use good form and posture when gardening

​Probably one the most important tip to remember . I cannot emphasize enough the need for this in order to prevent injury and taking care off your body for the long run…as well as improving your efficiency when you garden.
The most common mistake is to twist your body, like when shoveling. Pay attention to load ( only lift what you physically can) and keep load close to your body and pivot over your feet, taking a small side/ pivot steps.

Instead of bending with your back, use your hips and knees. Or what we call hip hinging. This is not complicated but takes practice.  You might need a physical therapist to show you how to properly hip hinge. This keeps your spine in a neutral position and instead place the load is placed on your hips, where the strongest muscles in your body are / should be. Also engaging your core will help stabilize your spine and make you feel more supported.   Hinging and engaging your core correctly takes practice to learn but makes a world of difference after a day of gardening.

6.Pay attention to what your body is telling you…

Soreness is normal…especially when you return to gardening in the spring and this period of lack of physical activity for many called winter.
Icing a sore area is always the first thing to do…10-15 minutes, using a small barrier( pillow case) between ice and skin to prevent ice burn.If your soreness last unusually long, you could have sustained a injury like a strain muscle or sprained joints. If you noticed tingling, numbness, pain, swelling, skin color change, make sure you address this sooner rather than later.  See your doctor, or even better if you suspect a strain muscles/sprained joint, your physical therapist. They will be able to identify your injury and help you right away or refer you to the appropriate medical professional if they cannot help you.  Helping you treat and learn how to avoid this injury, including specific exercises, body mechanics, proper hip hinging, and advice you on technique or equipment that applies to you is part of a PT duty.

So here you go, 6 gardening tips that I hope you will find helpful.  Don’t hesitate to contact us at pierre@butheauphysio.com or (425)281-4171 if you have any questions. We offer movement screening sessions which would help find out if your body is ready for gardening, as well as free discovery visit to find out how we can help you avoiding or recovering from injury.
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