healthy gardeningWith the arrival of spring’s milder temperatures gardeners of all ages have started activities in their gardens. As with all types of exercise, there is a risk of injury if done improperly. According to the Advanced Physical Therapy Center (APTC), it is important that gardeners take a health conscious approach to both prevent injuries and reap the health rewards of gardening.

Many gardeners injure themselves because they don’t view gardening as a workout. Gardening is a strenuous activity and it is very easy for people to overdo it, especially for seniors or those who have pre -existing conditions, limited mobility or who are normally inactive. Common gardening tasks, such as digging, planting, weeding, mulching and raking can cause stress and strain on muscles and joints, primarily in the shoulders, back, neck and knees.

APTC recommends the following tips to minimize the risk of injury:

  1. Warm up before you begin. Get your heart rate up by taking a 10 minute walk followed by some stretches for your upper and lower back, neck, arms and legs. Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.
  2. Don’t overdo it. Be mindful of how your body feels. If you experience an aching back or neck, then slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
  3. Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move tools and heavy planting materials.
  4. Don’t kneel on both knees. Keep one foot on the ground to give your back more stability. If you have to kneel, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure.
  5. Change positions and take frequent breaks to avoid stiffness or cramping.
  6. Start with smaller projects and build gradually. Don’t try to do it all at once.
  7. Practice proper body mechanics. Bend at your knees when you grab something or pull a weed, bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to avoid straining your back.
  8. End your gardening session with a short walk or some light stretching. If you feel any muscle soreness or joint pain, apply ice for 10-20 minutes to reduce inflammation.
  9. If you experience pain or soreness lasting more than a day or so, contact your physical therapist.

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