Exercising our green fingers is a great way to get closer to nature, enjoy a little peace and relax our minds. But what we sometimes forget, is that gardening can be strenuous exercise too.

Gardening, while enjoyable and fulfilling, can also lead to various injuries if proper precautions are not taken.. It’s easy to think of gardening as something sedentary and relaxing, but in one session you will put your body through a wide range of movements including standing, leaning, stretching, crouching, twisting, digging, and lifting – so that’s a full bodywork! You’ll be using many different muscles and joints and it’s important to recognise that you need to prepare your body in the same way you would if you were about to go out for a run or play tennis.

As well as the advisory hat and SPF additions (and anti-histamines if required) we can also succumb to some common gardening injuries – here are some ways to prevent them:

Sprains and Strains From Gardening:

These injuries can occur from lifting heavy objects, repetitive motions, or sudden movements. To prevent sprains and strains, remember to:

  • Warm up with stretching and simple exercises to warm up your core, back, shoulders, arms and legs before starting gardening activities.
  • Start with simple roll-down and ups, to loosen up the spine. Don’t force it, but standing up with feet hip-distance apart, aim to roll down through each vertebra and reach your fingers to your toes. Roll back up slowly and repeat 5 times. This is a great exercise before and after gardening to loosen up and ease back pain.
  • Next, stretch your waist and core muscles by reaching your hands above your head. With feet hip distance apart,  grab your right wrist with your left hand and stretch/bend over to the left side.  Hold for 20 seconds. On each out-breath, stretch a little more, and on each in-breath release a little. Repeat on your right side.
  • Now stretch your shoulders and upper arms. Stand up and cross your right arm over your chest, grasping it just above the elbow with your left hand. You’ll feel a great stretch and should hold this for 20 seconds, taking deep breaths, before repeating it on the other side.
  • Squats are a great way to strengthen your legs and buttock muscles, which will help to take some of the load off your back when gardening. Aim to do about 10 to 12 simple squats

Engage in exercises that strengthen the core, back, and upper body to support proper posture.

While a warm-up will help your body prepare for the demands of gardening, the best way to avoid injury and back pain, in the long run, is to strengthen your core (the group of muscles around your midsection which help protect and keep your spine stable).

  • Core exercises should involve the major muscles in your abdomen, including your internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominals.
  • A strong core will especially prepare your body for the more rigorous demands of gardening such as digging, lifting, and carrying.
  • Pilates and Yoga are great ways to strengthen your core.

Use proper lifting techniques.

  • Bend at the knees, keeping your back straight and lifting with your legs rather than your back.
  • Carry heavy items low down and pressed against your body so that there is less leverage on your back.
  • Instead of crouching down or bending over, which will force your spine into an unnatural position, aim to kneel down. You can use a soft gardening mat for comfort.  Have one knee down on the ground and the other raised up, and switch sides regularly to alleviate any pressure. Try to maintain the natural curvature of your spine.
  • Use a wheelbarrow where you can, to carry loads more safely.
  • If something like a watering can or bag of garden waste is heavy, only fill it up halfway and do multiple trips rather than risk straining your back.

Use the right gardening tools

  • Tools with extended handles or ergonomic gardening equipment with padded handles reduce strain on your hands and wrists.
  • Wheelbarrows and wheeled garden waste carts can make loading and unloading garden debris much easier, and enable you to transport compost or plant pots more safely.
  • Long-handled tools can make weeding, trimming, and even picking up garden waste much easier on your back, avoiding the need to stretch or bend over repeatedly.
  • You can also get support from garden kneelers as many of them are designed with special handles to assist you when getting up and down. Some of them convert into low stools as well which eliminates the need to crouch or bend down.

Take regular breaks to stretch and change positions.

  • Finally, it’s important to take regular breaks if you want to avoid back pain after gardening. It’s easy to get carried away and so immersed in tasks like weeding or trimming, that you forget to take a rest. Try setting a timer on your phone or watch and aim to take a break every 30 mins or so.  Have a cup of tea or simply walk around and stretch for 5 minutes.

And once you’ve finished for the day, take 10 minutes to stretch the muscles in your neck, shoulders, arms, back, and legs. Stretching after any strenuous physical activity is proven to help muscles recover and repair.

Gardener’s Neck

Gardener’s Neck is a term used to describe certain types of neck pain and discomfort associated with specific activities and postures. Here’s a brief overview:

Gardener’s Neck, also known as Tech/Text Neck or Postural Neck Pain, refers to neck pain and strain that arises from repetitive or prolonged forward bending of the neck while engaging in gardening activities. It commonly occurs when working in a bent-over position for extended periods, such as when weeding, planting, or performing other tasks that require looking down.

The repetitive strain on the neck muscles and ligaments can lead to muscle imbalances, tightness, and discomfort. Symptoms of Gardener’s Neck include neck pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, and limited range of motion.

To prevent or manage Gardener’s Neck, it’s essential to practice proper body mechanics while gardening. Maintain an upright posture as much as possible, take frequent breaks to stretch and change positions, and use tools with extended handles to reduce the need for excessive bending. Strengthening exercises for the neck, shoulders, and upper back can also help improve posture and support the neck.

It’s worth noting that Gardener’s Neck can be prevented or managed through awareness, proper posture, regular breaks, and exercises to strengthen the supporting muscles. If the pain persists or worsens, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate treatment options.

How to alleviate symptoms

Here some ways to alleviate Gardener’s Neck

1. Neck Stretch:

  • Sit or stand with a straight back.
  • Gently tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  • Return to the center and repeat the stretch on the left side.
  • Repeat the exercise 3-5 times on each side.

2. Chin Tucks:

  • Sit or stand with a straight back and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently retract your chin, pulling it in towards your neck without tilting your head.
  • Hold for 5 seconds and then relax.
  • Repeat the exercise for 10-15 repetitions.

3. Shoulder Rolls:

  • Sit or stand with a straight back and relaxed shoulders.
  • Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
  • Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion, then down and forward.
  • Repeat the shoulder rolls for 10-15 repetitions.

4. Upper Back Stretch:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Interlace your fingers and extend your arms in front of you, palms facing outward.
  • Round your upper back and shoulders forward while pushing your hands away from your body.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  • Relax and repeat the stretch 3-5 times.

5. Levator Scapulae Stretch:

  • Sit or stand with a straight back.
  • Gently tilt your head to the right, then rotate it slightly downward.
  • Place your right hand over your left ear and apply gentle pressure to further stretch the neck.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  • Repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
  • Perform the exercise 3-5 times on each side.

Remember to perform these exercises with slow and controlled movements. If you experience any pain or discomfort during the exercises, stop immediately and consult with a healthcare professional. It’s also important to maintain good posture and take regular breaks while gardening to prevent the recurrence of Gardener’s Neck.

Helping you live your healthiest and happiest life. Revival Health & Wellbeing Centre offers a variety of treatments, clinics, counselling and holistic therapies from our specialist team of practitioners.

Please contact us on 01386 792 126 to discuss your consultation.