Summer is heating up, and we all have the urge to get back to our regularly scheduled outdoor activities as soon as possible. Since many of those are not an option this year, finding unique, innovative ways to stay entertained has become the new normal during COVID-19. Many have begun to bake bread, craft, and explore different walking trails, but above all, the most sought after hobby is gardening. Americans have turned to gardening to get outside and relax during these unprecedented times. It is a great activity to take up for your mental and physical health, and can be done individually or with your family. While being outside in the sun can work wonders for stress levels, it can cause extra strain on your back if done extensively and in uncomfortable positions. Here are a few tips to help you ease into gardening while avoiding injury to your neck and back.
7 Back Tips for Summer Gardening
- Plan Ahead
Before you head out to change your landscape, come up with a plan on what you will do each day and how you will do it. Keep track of what you can/can’t do in terms of your back pain and start small. Starting or revamping your garden should be fun and stress-free, so you don’t want to set yourself up with plants you can’t tend to! If you plant too many things that will become too cumbersome to take care of, you may be adding extra stress and time spent removing things later on. Planning ahead also includes prepping your space with any necessary tools or cushions.
- Use the Right Tools & Accessories
Tools that are lighter and have longer handles are best for those with back pain. There are also many tools out there that allow you to do what you need to do from an upright standing position, rather than having to kneel down or overextend your body. Another great investment is a cushion for your knees to use while you are kneeling on the ground. Whether you grab an old pillow from inside, or purchase something more suited for gardening, any way to alleviate the pressure on your body will benefit you.
- Warm up
It may sound silly, but gardening is a type of exercise. You are using your muscles and bending your back for extended periods of time. So to avoid low back pain during or after gardening, take time to stretch out beforehand. You can warm up by taking a quick walk, and then stretching out your back there after. Warming up before gardening can help you stay pain-free and allow you to better enjoy your time.
- Be Careful Lifting Heavy Objects
Large items, like heavy bags of mulch or gravel, can really put a strain on your back if you don’t lift the right way. And if you suffer from back pain already, this can be especially painful. Make sure proper technique is used to bend, lift, and twist. Flexing your spine while bending or carrying something increases your risk of injury.
- Keep your back straight and bend from your knees when lifting something heavy.
- Use a wheelbarrow to move heavy objects from place to place, or have someone help you move it.
- Avoid bending to the side when trying to lift or reach something.
- Work lower to the ground when planting to avoid excess bending.
- Stay Hydrated
Being out in the hot summer sun can cause you to become dehydrated quickly. Proper hydration is great, not only for your spinal health, but for your entire body. When working in your garden, stop and take a water break every 15 to 20 minutes, or more often if your body needs it. Depending on the weather in your area, it is very important to look up guidelines on how much water to drink and how often to drink it when you are spending a lot of time in the sun and heat.
- Take Breaks
When gardening, the best thing to do is to listen to your body. If it’s telling you to stop, take a break. Breaks allow you to loosen your muscles and joints from the stiff position they were just in. This helps to avoid muscle soreness and over-straining that causes back pain. Make sure to stretch and hydrate during your break.
- Create a Raised Garden Bed
A raised flower or garden bed is the perfect setup for a gardener with a bad back. Compared to traditional gardens on the ground, raised beds allow you to tend to your garden without straining your back. Even if you can’t build or buy something that can come up to waist height, anything that is lifted off the ground will help. If you do have the time to build your own raised garden, try to keep it at waist level and make sure it isn’t so wide that you will be stretching over too much.
Don’t be discouraged by the summer heat and think it’s too late to build a garden! Depending on your area, there are plenty of options to start growing a garden, like summer vegetables and sunflowers. Start small, have fun with your new hobby, and remember to take breaks when needed. The most important takeaway is to listen to your body. Your body knows when it is tired and needs a break, and it will thank you for listening! If you feel prolonged back pain after or during your summer gardening, schedule an appointment with your spine specialist at Virginia Spine Institute.