By: Gema Sanchez, PT
If you are a gardener in Portland, February is the longest month of the year. You wait for those rare sunny days and bundle up to finish the fall clean up, admire the hellebores and hunt around for the first signs of Spring. And while all that fresh air and sunshine is good for the soul, your body may be a little stiffer than it was in the Fall, putting you at risk for injury. Here are some recommendations to prevent injury as you transition back to the gardening season:
- Alternate light and heavy tasks: Analyze what you have to do and determine if it is a light task such as stacking tomato cages or a heavy task such as clearing awkward branches. Give your body a break from the heavier tasks by alternating them with the lighter tasks. For example, take a break from taking out dead shrubs by spending some time tidying up plastic pots from last year’s garden. After moving heavy pots, rest your back and arms by doing a light task such as starting seeds. When you alternate heavy and light tasks, you use your body in different ways, thus reducing overuse.
- Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks. Early spring cleaning often involves repetitive tasks such as clearing debris and weeding. Staying in these forward bent positions for long periods or repeatedly reaching down and coming back up can be very hard on your back. Remember to take frequent breaks to stretch your back and legs and walk around a bit. A good place to start is to take a 10 minute break for every 30 minutes of work.
- Sharpen your pruners and saws: Dull blades are not only dangerous but very hard on your hands and arms. Pruning is much easier, more precise and better for you and your plants with sharp tools in good working order. Pruning can also be a repetitive task, so take frequent breaks to rest your hands and arms, especially if you are pruning thicker branches.
- Remember your biomechanics: All the basics of proper lifting and carrying very much apply in the garden. Bend your knees, carry objects close to you, alternate sides when you are carrying buckets or watering cans and get help for awkward or very heavy lifting.
- Bring your work to you: Whenever possible, bring your work to your level. Use a waist level surface for potting, transplanting, seed saving, tool maintenance and any other task you can easily lift onto the surface.
- Cool down with some stretching: After a day in the garden, take a few minutes to stretch out, especially your back, shoulders and hips. Your therapist can help design a program that is right for you. Hold stretches for at least 20-30 seconds and remember stretching should never be painful.
- Start out slow: As tempting as it is to spent the entire day working in the garden, consider limiting your time to a few hours the first day. Or at very least, take a good long lunch break, put your feet up and admire you work.