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With the beginning of spring and the warmer weather well on its way many of us will probably leap back into the garden with great enthusiasm.

Gardening is a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and can be a very enjoyable and rewarding activity. However, it can also be a very tiring and strenuous on the body.  We often find all sorts of sore and tight muscles the following day that we didn’t even know existed.  Worse still though is an acute injury such as a low back strain which is very painful, not to mention annoying!

Every spring, without fail, we see an increase in gardening related injuries here at the
clinic.  More often than not these could have been prevented or at least reduced in severity.  Here are a few simple tips to make your gardening experience injury free.

1. Be time oriented not task oriented
Rather than gardening for hours on end until you finished what you started, work in shorter blocks of time. I usually suggest people take a break every hour.  Have a reminder for this such as setting a timer or if you are listening to the radio take a break when the hourly news comes on.  These breaks will give your body some well deserved rest and recovery time.

2. Keep well hydrated
So many people forget to drink enough water when they are gardening.  It is important to keep your fluid levels up.  Firstly to prevent dehydration and secondly to help with recovery of muscular soreness the following day.  Also, drinking lots of water will ensure your are forced to take a loo break!

3. Wear appropriate clothing
It is important to avoid over exposure to the sun in the middle of the day when it’s ultraviolet rays are the most intense.  To prevent a nasty case of sunburn or even sunstroke be sure to wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Protection from the sun will also help prevent dehydration.
Whilst the sun smart message is important, it does not mean that we have to avoid exposure to the sun altogether.  Our body needs sunlight in order to manufacture vitamin D.  Vitamin D is important for a healthy immune system and also ensuring our bones stay strong.  Many of us however are vitamin D deficient.  So getting some rays on your face and shoulders for about 10-20 minutes (depending on your skin type, without a hat or sunscreen) before 10am or after 3pm is a good idea.  The garden is a perfect place to do this.

Good, sturdy shoes when gardening are also important.  Supportive shoes will help prevent sore feet, knees and low back.  They can also prevent spider and snake bites.

4. Bend correctly
When lifting be sure to bend from your knees rather than your back.  Letting your legs do the work will take strain off the muscles, joints and discs in your spine.  Also, use your common sense.  If something is too heavy, don’t lift it by yourself.  Get some help or ask someone stronger to do it for you.
Avoid prolonged bent over postures especially whilst performing ground level activities such as weeding.  You’re better off bringing your body closer to the ground by kneeling or sitting. A garden kneeling pad is worth purchasing for this activity.  Kneeling on this foam pad protects the knees and the two handles either side allow it to double up as a seat when turned around the other way.  These are available from hardware stores for around $20.
To help keep weeds at bay and reduce your weeding time, apply a generous layer of mulch to your garden beds.

5. Stretch
As with any physical activity it is very important to warm up properly before you start.  Stretching at the end of the day can also help reduce muscle aches and pains commonly experienced the next day.  If one of us has prescribed you some stretches to do on a daily basis, be sure to do these after you have finished gardening.

Sometimes no matter how careful you are you will still get sore. Don’t worry too much about this.  A majority of the time it will only be short lived. Rod and I spent most of last weekend cleaning and sealing our deck.  We both ended up with sore backs and had to go into the clinic and treat each other.

by Saskia Harris