Gardening Tasks and Your Back

The Back Safe Way to Dig, Weed, Plant and more.

Gardening and back pain don't have to be synonymous.  Flare ups, strain, injuries or just plain 'ole aches 'n' pains may be due to things that you can control, namely your body mechanics. 

In this article, you'll find an overview of common gardening chores (digging, weeding, using a wheelbarrow, etc.) and how to do them in a safe way for your back. Each illustrated summary contains a link to more detailed, step-by-step guides for you to follow. So dig in - and healthy gardening!

1
Digging

Dig your garden with good posture.
Avoid back pain when you shovel soil.. (c) Anne Asher Licensed to About.com

When shoveling dirt (or snow, for that matter), it is possible to minimize your risk for strain and excess muscle tension.

This is all about using your weight as leverage. A couple of tips on successful leveraging:

  • Stay in alignment (starting with being mindful of the direction in which your shovel is facing.)
  • As much as possible, lean your weight rather than muscle with your arms.
  • Move your whole body when dumping the dirt out of the shovel. In other words, while it may seem easier to simply twist your body, this is not easier on your spine.  Again, it takes mindfulness to walk around in a quarter or half circle and then release the dirt.

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2
Weeding and Back Pain - How to Weed Without Back Pain

weeding
weeding. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

From sitting aids to strategies, there are many ways to protect your back from the effects of weeding.  

One of the most popular positions for extended weeding sessions is sitting on a bucket or stool. If you have knee, hip or back pain, sitting will help you avoid putting pressure onto those areas.

But even sitting to weed can take its toll on your back if you don't know how to do this efficiently. The biggest key is to sit right on top of your sitting bones (you'll know them when you feel them.) If you have to lean forward to grab a weed, try keeping your back straight and folding at the hip joint.

For more, grab a bucket and I'll show you what I mean.

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3
Lifting Plants and Bags of Soil

bend
bend from hips. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

When lifting, the first rule is to discipline yourself to use common sense. Many times a bag of soil is just too heavy. Here are my best common sense tips:

  • Enlist someone to help you.
  • Bend from the hips and knees, rather than the waist. This is because, for lifting and carrying heavy weights, the hips are more powerful and better equipped to deal with the load than the back.
  • Keep your spine straight.  If you are in the habit of bending over at the waist to lift, you may at first need to apply mindfulness during the transition to a more bio-mechanically sound way of working.

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4
Dumping Out the Wheelbarrow

When emptying a wheelbarrow, think about using your whole body weight to help you avoid strain.
When emptying a wheelbarrow, think about using your whole body weight to help you avoid strain and sprain.. (c) Anne Asher Licensed to About.com

Using leverage comes in very handy when emptying a wheelbarrow.  Employ all possible bio-mechanical strategies to help you:

  • Position yourself so that you are lifting from underneath.
  • Use an underhanded grip.
  • Keeping your back straight, bend from the hips and knees.  Support the movement from the big, powerful muscles of the legs and pelvis.  
  • Once up, keep your spine long. Lean your body weight in toward the wheelbarrow to tilt the contents out.

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5
Get Your Mower Moving

Maintain a constant elbow angle to help avoid upper back and shoulder strain when getting your mower
Maintain a constant elbow angle to help avoid upper back and shoulder strain when getting your mower in gear.. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

You mower may need a bit of "help" overcoming inertia and getting moving across the lawn.  Once again, the key is to use your body weight as leverage. As usual, keep you spine long, and lean your weight in.

But there's another element to good mowing bio-mechanics: The connection you make between your hands and arms, and the mower. Following a few simple upper body guidelines will likely contribute nicely to your ability to lean in, to maintain a long spine and access your powerful hip and leg muscles as you work your lawn mower. Here are a few tips:

  • Establish a neutral wrist posture.
  • Establish an elbow angle you can comfortably maintain.

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