Gardening and Preventing Injury

As daffodil flowers are blooming in Portland, OR, people know that spring is here and it is time to start working on their yard.  Gardening is a healthy pastime for many people.  Like most activities, there are chances for injury.  Back, shoulder, and arm injuries are possible but there are steps that can be taken to decrease chances for injury.  Common tasks that can lead to injury when gardening include pulling weeds, lifting and moving heavy items, bending & reaching, operating machinery, and using hand tools.  Stress and wear may build up over longer periods of time with overuse and lead to injury later.

One of the more dangerous tasks involves pulling the cord to start a lawnmower.  Pulling with your full strength without warming up can lead to shoulder injuries.  This is especially important at the start of the season when you are not yet used to the pulling motion and your machinery has been sitting unused over the winter.  Avoid using your full strength to start a lawnmower or other machinery with a cord, and make sure to warm up beforehand first.  Gentle stretches including stretching your arm across your body and behind your back to warm up can help prevent injury when starting machinery with a pull cord.

Bending to pull weeds places excess repetitive stress on your back and can lead to back injuries.  Using a hoe with a longer handle is easier on your back.  When using a hoe, try to avoid leaning forward or hunching your back. 

Using clippers can be straining on your hands.  Longer handled loppers and ratchet tools can help decrease strain on your hands and fingers when working in the garden.  Additionally, try to avoid reaching as far as you can above your head when working as this can cause pinching in your shoulders. 

Lifting heavy items puts a lot of pressure on your back and it is important to use proper lifting technique to prevent injury.  Keep your back straight and lift with your knees. 

With all gardening activities, make sure to regularly switch tasks to avoid overuse especially if you garden infrequently or at the beginning of the season. 

Some of us already have injuries but still want to enjoy gardening.  The tips above for prevention of injuries will help reduce strain and aggravation of existing injuries, but may not be enough.  For those with low back injuries, abdominal bracing or a back brace when gardening can be helpful.  For those with shoulder impingement, holding a water bottle or small weight while relaxing the shoulder of the affected arm can help relieve pressure on muscles in the shoulder.  Applying ice wrapped in a towel to affected areas immediately after gardening or exercise can help prevent aggravation of symptoms.

Gardening is a healthy hobby but injuries can be serious and long lasting.  Contact your Chiropractor if you have been injured while gardening or have been unable to garden due to injury.