Gardening is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and stay active. Heavy yard work such as raking improves your endurance and strength while other activities can improve and maintain flexibility. However, if you are not moving properly or if you are out of shape, working on your garden can cause strain to the back, shoulders, knees and arms.
The key to a healthy garden is a healthy gardener. A common problem with gardening is that people often go into their garden and start digging without giving much thought about the right and wrong way to dig. Before you begin, warm-up with a brisk walk or rehearse the movements you will be doing such as raking or weeding. This prepares the body for the activity and you will be less likely to injure yourself.
When BENDING, LIFTING and CARRYING: When lifting an object, bend your knees and squat down, using the powerful thigh and buttock muscles instead of your back muscles. Keep the object close to the body at all times. Whenever possible, try and use both hands to lift any objects so the load is balanced and both arms are evenly used. Whenever you need help lifting, don’t hesitate to ask for it! Use a wagon or wheelbarrow to transport supplies and to carry heavy items.
- A 4 wheeled cart or wagon is sturdier and easier to use than a wheelbarrow
- Avoid reaching for objects and twisting while bending. Keep your back straight while lifting or carrying objects
When PRUNING and TRIMMING: It is very important to get as close to the object as possible because you do not want to stretch beyond your reach. Rehearse the movement originally as a stretch to test how far you can reach comfortably before you have to strain. It is best to work below shoulder level so try to use a ladder to bring yourself up to the level are working. If you are unable to avoid reaching, take breaks every 5 minutes to stretch out your neck, back and shoulders. The equipment that you choose to use is important as well; you want to make sure the tool handle is the right size for you.
- Adapt the tools for ease and comfort by padding the handles of the tools
- Wrap slippery handles with tape to improve grip (hockey tape works great) to avoid having to grasp it tightly or have it slip out of your hand
- Use knee pads, foam pads or folded towels while kneeling
When RAKING and HOEING: It is very important to keep the tools close to your body. Tools should have long enough handles to stand up straight while using them. Try different length tools at the hardware store before purchasing one to ensure the right length is used. If the wrong size is used, you will end up stooping over which can cause strain on the back, neck and shoulders.
- Try your best to use your arms and avoid twisting at the trunk
When WEEDING and PLANTING: It is very important to keep the tools close to your body. Avoid reaching and use tools with long enough handles to use comfortably in a kneeling or sitting position. Do not continuously bend from the waist; squat, kneel or sit on a kneeling pad. While holding the tools, avoid a tight, sustained grasp and hold it in a comfortable grasp instead. While holding the tools, make sure both your forearms and wrists in a neutral position (as if you were going to give somebody a handshake).
- If you have difficulty getting up from a crouched or seated position, use a kneeling pad or bench with a support handle for assistance.
- Give your back, legs and knees a break from stooping or kneeling by using tools with long handles which you can use in standing
When DIGGING and SHOVELLING: Insert the head of the shovel vertically into the ground and step down on it to drive it into the soil. It is better to shovel smaller amounts and make more trips than to lift a heavy weight. If there is a need to transport large and/or heavy loads, use a wheelbarrow or wagon for its transportation
- Choose a shovel with a weight and handle length that is the right size for you and the job you are doing
- Spread extensive digging/shovelling tasks throughout a week rather than in a single weekend to give your body time to recover
- Take breaks throughout the activity to let your back relax
- Wear a gardening apron with more than one pocket to carry tools that you use frequently or at least keep the frequently used tools close which helps avoid reaching and twisting
- Keep sharp tools sharp so cutting is easier
Department of Health Services, (2007). Health & Safety Guide for Gardeners.
Hunter, L. (2009). Canadian Gardening. Stretch Before Garden Chores,