Now the better weather is beginning to arrive, many of us are looking at our gardens and planning all the marvellous things we are going to do to convert it into a National Treasure fit for Chelsea – well, we can all dream!
Here are a few physio tips to help you achieve that aim safely by avoiding some common injuries.
Have your lawnmower serviced at the beginning of the season – We see approximately three patients every year with shoulder sprains from repeatedly pulling rip-cord motors that are reluctant to start after a damp winter in the garage.
Do a few stretches before and after the gardening – No-one would consider (I hope!) going to the gym without doing a warm-up. You are going to do some moderate physical exercise: prepare your body. Stretches will lengthen tight muscles, improve the circulation, oxygen and nutrient flow to the tissues and reduce the build up of waste products which give you those aching muscles the next day.
Plan your workload – Have several tasks on the go at the same time, but work a little on each every time you go into the garden. Although it is systematic to start and finish each job before going on to the next, your body will much prefer the variety of tasks. If, like me, your garden is on clay, digging is hard work. Try to do this when the ground is neither too dry and hard, or too wet and heavy. Do not try and do the whole vegetable patch in one morning. It may be mentally satisfying, but your back and muscles will find it very strenuous. Keep trying to improve the quality of your soil so that it gets easier each year as your body gets older!
Pruning – This is a gentle, non-taxing activity… or is it? Again, do this in moderation. Repeated use of the pruning shears on tough stems places a lot of pressure on the forearm muscles and can lead to tennis elbow-type symptoms. Use two hands for tough pruning or try alternating left and right hands (that’s also good for your brain!). Again, stretching out these forearm muscles will help to prevent lactic acid build-up and reduce muscle soreness.
If you have problems with hips, knees or your back, consider the use of long-handled tools. These are now widely available and allow you to weed and hoe from a better position and posture. The use of a kneeler will also help reduce pressure through the knees and prevent you stooping over the flowerbed. Sometimes a little planning and a slight change in the way you’ve been used to doing things can make a world of difference to how much you enjoy your gardening – and I promise you the plants won’t mind!