Sunday, March 24, 2013

Learning How To Mind Your Body While Gardening

I have been slowly recovering from my elbow surgery that I had on January 2nd. And I mean slow. At least to me it’s slow. I have a great physical therapist, though, and I know I’ll get where I want to some point. Right now, I have come to the conclusion, after much discussion, that I cannot do my own mulching this year. No big pile of mulch in the driveway with me hauling a full wheelbarrow to the garden in the backyard, and back again for more. It’s been difficult enough just pruning and clearing out the beds. So if I really listen to my body this time, it’s telling me “no mulching for you this year, missy!”

A good thing that has come out of all of this is that I am finally learning the “correct” way to garden. I got a list of tips from my physical therapist — some of which are common sense (but that I still never followed) and others that are new to me and good to know. Thought I’d post them here as a reminder to myself to garden with my body in mind...and maybe others will find them helpful, too.

Tips for Preventing Injury in the Garden


1. Warm Up
Take a few minutes to warm up and stretch. Walk around your garden a few times. Stretch your hands, neck and back before you pick up that rake or shovel. (I always thought it would be a good idea to warm up, but never did it!)

2. Alternate Garden Tasks
Try raking for 15 minutes and then weeding or pruning for the next 15 minutes. Alternating job tasks is easier on your body because different muscle groups are worked. (Good to know!)

3. Take Frequent Breaks
After the long winter, our bodies aren’t ready for 5 hours of continuous pushing, digging, bending, and lifting. Treat your body right by giving it a break. Stop for a drink, to reapply sunscreen, or to observe nature in your backyard. (I am guilty of only taking breaks on really hot summer days. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.)

4. Ask For Help
Don’t lift a large shrub or several 40 pound bags of mulch yourself if you have not been doing this regularly. Ask a neighbor or family member for some help to avoid straining your back. (This is a big one for me. As much as I know that I should ask for help with heavy tasks, I never do. All the times that I’ve lugged bags of mulch, soil, or compost in my wheelbarrow – usually four bags at a time...)

5. Lift From the Hip and Knees, Not From the Waist
If you must lift something yourself, take a moment to think it through before you lift and then perform it properly. (At least I knew this one and practice it regularly.)

6. Avoid Bending at the Waist
If your knees are painful, use a step stool to pick weeds or plant flowers. Also, consider planting in a raised bed, containers, or window boxes. (Something else I’ve actually been doing right.)

7.  Avoid Extended Arm Reach
Whether you are pushing a lawn mower, pulling out weeds in your garden, or pruning a hedge, keep a gentle bend in your elbows to avoid developing pain in your elbows and forearms. (Wow, wish I knew this one sooner. This is apparently a big one for people like me with chronic tendonitis. My physical therapist said that if you feel you are about to reach, such as when weeding, move yourself closer to avoid reaching. This will be a tough one for me to remember, but I need to do it so that it becomes habit.)

8. Keep Your Wrists in Neutral Position
Avoid extremes of motion, up, down, or sideways, with the wrist as you push a lawn mower or use hand tools. Keeping your wrist in neutral will lower your risk of injury to your hand and wrist. (Another one that’s good to know.)

9. Be Kind To Your Hands
Use padded handles or ergonomically designed hand tools. Wear good fitting protective gloves. (I have a great Oxo hand trowel with a rubber handle and my awesome Bionic gardening gloves, so I’m pretty good on this one.)

10. Be Attentive
Take extra care especially when using power tools or children are present. Inspect your lawn thoroughly to remove debris before mowing. Wear protective shoes. Never attempt to remove something that is stuck in a blade while the mower is still on. (Let’s hope we all know that one.)

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