Safe Gardening For A Better Back

Athletic woman touching her back muscles by injury

With summer in full bloom, so are our vegetable gardens, our backyards and our weeds. Gardening, landscaping and yardwork are a joy for many, a great way to accomplish something important, but also an opportunity to get up from our desks, get outside and do some good old fashioned work.

I like work. But, honestly, I don’t like weeding.

Even with my relatively high level of fitness, the sustained forward bending of weeding, the repeated pulling and digging, has taken its toll on me in the past. Last year, after weeding, I experienced very bad back pain that lasted close to 6 weeks. Statistically, I was not alone. 80% of us will experience significant back pain at some point in their lives. It’s very common. What is most important is what you do afterward, and of course, learning from your mistakes.

Senior Has Back Pain Due To Heavy Load

With my back injury, I had to change up my exercise routine, do a lot of self-care including foam rolling, massages, heat and, even then, I still moved gingerly for quite awhile. This year, determined to avoid another injury, I was very mindful while gardening. I began to think, if I could experience such pain, I wonder about others who don’t strength train or don’t have good overall posture. Here’s some of my best back health tips I used this year to not only improve the workload of gardening, but also escape reinjury.

  • Do not weed from a straight legged bent over position! You might as well make your MD appointment before you garden if this is your style of weeding. Bending forward with straight legs puts excessive force on the discs of the low back and can cause muscle injury and even disc injury and sciatica. Instead, try hingeing from the hips, knees bent and feet wide, back straight. I even draw my abs in to further support my back. If you can get into a squat position well and without pain, this can be a great weeding position as well.
  • Place one hand on a pole or fence as you bend forward to garden or weed. This will help support your back. It makes a huge difference in how your back feels and works during forward bending.
  • Kneel on 1 knee or both knees as you weed. Place 1 hand on the ground if necessary to further support you. There’s no shame in crawling from one area to another as you weed. Crawling is a great core exercise!
  • Limit the amount of time you weed or do yardwork, and especially the amount of time you spend bent over. Yes, be so aware of your gardening posture that you nip the injury potential in the bud. This may mean you only weed for 45 minutes, but it is far better to do shorter stints which you can repeat without injury, than 1 long stint which sends you to bed with pain.
  • After gardening, self-massage techniques can help with muscle tension. Foam roll the entire back, glutes and hips. Take in lots of water to keep muscles hydrated. Avoid any heavy exercise after extended periods of gardening or yardwork. Long periods of forward bending put your back at risk for later injury. The fact that I went running after gardening is what really pushed my back pain over the edge.
  • Lastly, start some kind of a core/ strength training exercise program in advance of gardening season. Or, in advance of winter shoveling…. maybe even start now? It can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the outdoors and your ability to do yard work.  Most back injuries are as a result of repetitive stress with a lack of good body mechanics and core strength, all things you can improve upon and control!