By Lynne Midwinter, Chartered Physiotherapist
Watching the highlights from RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week and with gardening listed as a hobby for over half the adult population of the UK it reminded me that there are a lot of people at risk of injury now that the peak gardening season is here.
At Physio & Therapies the first warm weekends in the spring and early summer usually brings us a rash of injuries from back strain to stiff shoulders presenting at our clinic, so here is our advice on how to avoid unnecessary discomfort.
The most important piece of advice is to pace yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your garden won’t be either! Break jobs down into manageable chunks and give yourself the reward of a break with a cup of tea when you’ve done each part. It’s best to stop every hour for at least 10 minutes.
Vary your position – don’t bend over for any longer than absolutely necessary and afterwards stretch your back into the opposite position to lengthen the shortened muscles. Make sure that you squat or kneel wherever possible and when potting up cuttings or sowing seed-trays, work at a table or a bench.
Buying long handled tools is an obvious way to save too much bending. Whenever possible, use hoes or a rake in preference to a hand fork or trowel. Long handled shears can be used for lots of jobs and often prevent the need to use ladders. On soft earth and grass, ladders can be dangerously unstable!
When you must kneel to weed, use a foam pad to protect your knees. Move the pad as you work to prevent over reaching. Save up plastic carrier bags to put garden waste in – they are much easier to lift and carry than big black sacks – or better still start a compost heap.
Using shears and cutters often results in elbow pain. This may be caused by inflammation of the tendons around the elbow, muscle strains through overuse or nerve irritation. If you are using shears regularly you must ensure that you take regular breaks and stop if you start to experience pain. Ice application may reduce symptoms, as can specific wrist and elbow exercises. Your Physiotherapist may also be able to show you how to tape your elbow yourself when gardening which may help to reduce the pressure on certain structures.
Later, when you’ve finished for the day, avoid sitting down in an armchair for a well earned rest – this puts your low back in a stretched position and is often the final straw. Have a hot bath to ease any muscle ache and then rest your back by lying down for a short while, even if it’s only on the lounge floor in front of the TV. If you think you have pulled something follow the first aid advice for any recent injury –
Rest – keep your weight off the area for at least a few hours
Ice – use a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a damp tea towel for 15 minutes
Compression – apply a bandage or tubigrip to prevent too much swelling
Elevation – raise the injured area so it is higher than your heart – this helps reduce swelling
Arnica is useful to take for strains and bruises – it is a Homeopathic remedy and can be bought at most Health food shops and chemists. If the pain persists, contact your GP or contact us on 01706 819464 for assessment and treatment.