Nothing will ruin a wonderful day in the garden faster than a sore back or painful knees! After suffering most of yesterday with muscle spasms in my back (having absolutely nothing to do with gardening…), I thought it a timely reminder to everyone who is eager to have shovel in hand again that you can lessen the chances of sore muscles and aching joints by doing some prep work — flexing those gardening muscles, so to speak.
Most gardening muscle strains center around the lower or lumbar area of the back. Here is a simple diagram I found online that will illustrate an easy method of stretching those particular muscles.
Seated as shown, with your arms stretched overhead, slowly bend over and try to touch your toes. DO NOT BOUNCE. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly move to a sitting position again. If this seems overly easy, move your feet away from the chair a bit for a longer reach. Repeat this SLOWLY about 5-10 times — you’ll know what your comfort level is.
Don’t “over-stretch” and remember that it’s just the beginning of the gardening season, but it’s the time that requires some of the heaviest work. Keep that in mind as you lift and bend. Be especially careful of twisting at the waist when lifting — this can result in a nasty strain. Move your body instead.
Stretching in a chair like this prevents strain on the back of the thighs or hamstrings. If you want to gently stretch that area at the same time, try a simple standing toe touch. Again, be careful not to BOUNCE or stretch too far.
Another area in which you are likely to feel strain at the end of your gardening session is in the shoulders. You can help loosen those muscles, before and after your time in the garden, with this simple exercise. Once again, don’t force your arm forward — gently hold it.
Sit with your arms relaxed. Lift your left arm and move it toward your right shoulder — now hold your left arm with your right hand and pull it in a little, just until you start to feel a bit of resistance. Hold for 10-20 seconds and then change sides and repeat. Try to do this at least 5 times for each arm.
To warm up knees, touching toes while keeping legs straight will help, as will a few steps of walking in place. Or better yet, take a brisk stroll around your gardens before digging in. It will improve circulation to the knee joint.
With knees, a lot is common sense. Use a kneeling cushion if you’re going to be on your knees for an extended period of time. Better yet, SIT when possible — there are a large variety of seats or stools made just for this.
Then, of course, there are the common sense things that we should follow in all seasons. Lift with your legs, not your back; keep your knees bent. Do the heaviest work first; don’t lift with a tired back. As much as possible, don’t twist at the waist; change your stance and move your entire body.
Occasionally, we’re going to overdo or over-exert some muscle group, despite our best intentions. Sore, achy, tired muscles that are NOT injured will benefit from moist heat and rest. Any serious injuries should be examined by a physician.
Hopefully, we can all watch our gardening mechanics and avoid any unpleasant accidents this season! If anyone has a favourite exercise they’d like to share, please feel free.