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Calling All Green Thumbs: Safe Back Techniques Before You Garden!

As we approach the peak of springtime color here in Virginia, green thumbs are finally seeing the fruits of their labor! But for many of us gardeners, it does not stop here; we continue to maintain and enhance our beautiful landscapes. Many people have found that their gardens are further along than normal because of a warmer than usual spring, creating more gardening opportunities. Gardening presents a relaxing hobby for many, although it is important to follow specific techniques to avoid back strain and low back pain. Here are a few strategies to help maintain a healthy back while enjoying the great outdoors:

WEEDING

Weeding often requires prolonged sitting or bending over. To avoid excessive bending, it is recommended to use a stool (a simple low stool will often do the trick) to sit on, which will reduce the amount of pressure put on your low back. This is also a useful technique if one has knee and/or hip pain.

DIGGING

Digging is a critical gardening movement that requires the right tools to get the job done safely and efficiently. Make sure you have a shovel with sharp edges to reduce the amount of force needed to scoop the dirt. The handle of the shovel should also be long enough to avoid excessive bending. Maintain good posture while using a shovel, and if you find yourself using too much pressure, try to wet the soil to loosen it up. Don’t twist too much when dumping out the soil, but rather move a few steps to get to the dumping ground.

LIFTING

Prolonged lifting of heavy bags of soil and mulch can take a toll on your back. Rule of (green) Thumb is to always use your hips to lift up, as these muscles are typically much stronger than your low back muscles. Furthermore, bend at the knees and use the hips to come back up; do not bend your waist. Many people invest in elevated garden beds to avoid excessive bending. If something is too heavy, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Your back will thank you later.

LAWN MOWING

A well manicured lawn is often the finishing touch to a picture perfect landscape. It is imperative to maintain proper posture while using a lawn mower as poor technique can lead to increase strain, and in turn, low back pain. Also pay attention to your arm position. Proper form allows a slight bend at the elbow with the handle at a comfortable level (not too high or low).

5 Gardening basics for every green thumb:
  1. Make sure you are conditioned and ready for spending prolonged time in the garden. Don’t rush into gardening after long periods of inactivity.
  2. Planting perennial flowers and plants is a great way to avoid additional time in the garden every season.
  3. Make sure you are well hydrated while spending hours outside. It is a good idea to wear light colored clothing and a hat, and plant in shaded areas.
  4. Listen to your body and take breaks every 15-20 minutes to stretch.
  5. Make sure to have long enough handles on your tools to avoid excessive bending. 

*If you continue to suffer from low back pain despite these techniques, it is important to contact your physician prior to continuing to garden.

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