How to Avoid Garden Related Injuries
Spring finally arrives and you are more than ready to get your hands dirty in the yard and gardens. Maybe you are a little overzealous and end up straining your back. Now you are out of commission for weeks. Here is what you need to know to help avoid these injuries in the future.
- Try to stay in shape all year. Let's face it, we need to exercise to stay healthy, but I understand that many of us just don't do what we are supposed to do. If you were a little lazy over the winter try this: a few weeks before gardening season begins warm up with a quick 20-minute walk, start slow, gradually build up speed, then slow down again before ending the walk. Now that your muscles are good and warmed up, do some gentle stretching for another 5-10 minutes. Stretch your legs, back, arms and neck. And don't forget to add some squats or lunges to the mix. This will really help reduce soreness when you are constantly getting up and down while weeding or lifting heavy objects. Don't do anything that feels uncomfortable and never stretch when muscles are cold. Do this 3-5 days a week, and if you can do this before gardening tasks, even better. Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine to make sure you are healthy enough for such activities.
- If you spend a lot of time at a potting bench, make sure it's the right height for you and the activity you will be performing. If you feel like you are straining your back, it's possible the potting bench needs to be taller. Or maybe you can try sitting on a stool to alleviate stress on the back.
- When performing repetitive tasks like weeding or digging, take frequent breaks and stretch, or perform a different task for a few minutes before continuing. This will help prevent excessive muscle strain and repetitive injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Protect knees by sitting on a stool or wearing knee pads. The older we get, the less we should be on our knees, but sometimes we just can't help it. Check out your local home improvement store for knee pads designed for construction workers who are on their knees a lot. These are better than anything I've ever seen sold in a gardening catalog. And if you have to work on your knees, take frequent breaks and don't try to do it all in one day.
- Never pick up anything that is too heavy for you. Don't be too proud to ask for help or use a cart to help move things along. When picking up heavy objects, remember to bend down and lift with your legs and not your back.
- While digging with a shovel, don't try to dig too much at one time. Take smaller shovelfuls if necessary and stop and take breaks as needed.
- Don't overfill a wheelbarrow or cart. You can still strain muscles in your back and legs if you are trying to pull or push a load that is too heavy for you. And overflowing wheelbarrows and carts turn over very easily, so don't do it.
- Don't over stretch your arms and back while weeding or working on something that is in front of you. It's too easy to lose your balance or strain something.
- If you have to climb a ladder to prune or possibly clean the gutters, make sure your ladder is securely on the ground and have a person spot you, if possible. When pruning overhead, make sure there are no electrical wires in the way and make sure the branches you are cutting are not going to fall on you after they are cut.
- Let's not forget your skin. Always apply sunscreen before going out in the yard for the day. Even on a cloudy day, you could get a sunburn if you are outside long enough. Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes and a hat with a brim to better protect the tips of your nose, ears and the back of your neck. And don't forget the insect repellent! Mosquitoes can carry disease and biting flies just plain hurt, so wear repellent and/or long sleeves and pants.
- Protect your hands from blisters and possible poisonous plant exposure by wearing gloves. Avoid touching your face or bare skin with your gloves and if you are aware of poison ivy, oak or sumac in an area you are working in, then wear long pants and sleeves as well.
- Protect feet with good quality sneakers, muck boots and the like. Avoid flip flops or any open-toed shoes while out in the garden. Make sure your shoe has good traction and good arch support. If you are out in the garden, on your feet all day, you need that support, trust me.
- Always pick up after yourself. Don't leave tools lying around to step on or trip over. And while you are at it, make sure you pick up stones and sticks before mowing. These can shoot out and hurt you or others.
This list ended up being longer than I anticipated, but I hope it reminds us all to take it slow and take care of ourselves in the garden so that we can continue to garden, pain-free, for many years to come.