Gardening is a fun and generally safe activity, but it can come with some risk of injury. Simple gardening activities, like weeding, raking, or digging can involve a lot of movement and effort. These movements make gardening a very beneficial activity but, like any repetitive physical activity, they can also be a source of gardening injuries.
Since people involved in gardening tend to be enthusiastic, particularly in the spring when there’s a lot to do and it’s pleasant to be outdoors after the winter, it’s easy to get carried away, and do too much too soon, and sometimes, do it the wrong way. Here are tips on how to make sure your time spent gardening is safe and free from injury.
1. Before you start gardening, warm up your muscles
Warming up your muscles doesn’t just apply to athletics or workouts at the gym. It is also about preparing the muscles for any kind of physical activity. Not only does warming up help get your muscles ready to make them resistant to gardening injuries, but it can also help you gain energy for the gardening session to come. When you stretch and warm up for fifteen minutes prior to any gardening work, every movement you make is easier and brisker.
2. Use the right gardening tools
The right tools for you are the right length, the right weight, and have comfortable angles. Tools that do not have these qualities can force you to bend at difficult angles and cause you to injure your back. Rather than use tools originally bought for other members of the family, it’s important you use tools you bought for yourself. When taking a break, be sure to move tools to a place where you won’t trip over them.
Also remember to use extra caution when using powered lawn equipment such as mowers, tillers, and string trimmers. Beyond the physical handling of heavy equipment, the tools themselves pose injury risks. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission logs thousands of reports of hospital emergency room visits relating to various lawn and garden tools.
3. Take stretch breaks to prevent gardening injuries to muscles
Stretching isn’t just to prepare your muscles for work to come, it also to re-energize you as you work. It doesn’t take much effort and only requires a few minute’s break when you’re in the middle of working. A few toe-touches are all it takes to get any tense muscles to loosen up a bit. If you’ve been working in one position for a long time, such as bending forward to pull weeds or leaning over raking, you’ll want to do stretching in reverse of that movement.
Stand up and slightly arch your back and roll your shoulders back. Hold the stretch for about thirty seconds. Relax and repeat any stretches until you feel any muscle tension subside. Always remember to stretch gently and never force a stretch to the point of pain.
4. Make smooth movements
The muscles of your back are able to handle a remarkable amount of stress. Such stress, however, needs to be introduced in a gradual way. Unfortunately, when you’re inexperienced, it’s easy to make sudden moves in your enthusiasm.
If you need to do something that requires twisting, for example, you should move your entire body, rather than just your upper body. If you’re picking something up, you should lift heavy objects by squatting, keeping your back posture straight, and lifting with your legs and hips.
5. Protect your skin while gardening
Sunburns are among the most common gardening injuries. It’s easier to forget about sun injury when you’re working at home then when you’re planning a day at the pool, beach, or a sporting event. It’s important that you are as careful about protecting your skin when you are out gardening in the sunshine. You need to put on a sun hat and wear plenty of sunscreen. Since you’ll be working in your garden, wearing full-sleeved clothing is a good idea, as well.
6. Pace yourself when taking on garden big projects
It’s important to understand that a garden doesn’t grow overnight. You can’t get results in a matter of days. Putting a great deal of work into your garden in a short period of time, then, doesn’t make much sense. Rather than let your dreams dictate how much work you will do in a particular time frame, think about how much work your body can take. It’s important that you do not overwork or overstrain your joints or muscles by playing a “weekend warrior”. It’s okay to plan your garden tasks over several days or weeks rather than trying to get everything done in a weekend.
7. Get down to the right height
Minimize the need for bending by positioning yourself according to the work you’ll be doing . For example, tasks such as shoveling, raking, or hoeing are best done with long-handled tools that allow you to working standing and keeping your back straight. When you need to do more intricate work by hand or with small tools, you should squat down at ground level, or get protective kneepads so that you can kneel.
If you have existing knee issues that prohibit squatting or kneeling for long periods, a light-weight garden or step stool can be helpful. You could also use a cushion to sit right on the ground. Cushions designed for stadium bleachers are often lightweight and made of materials that are easy to clean. The closer you are to your work, the better it is for your body.
8. Hire help for big gardening jobs
Although it’s very satisfying to see a garden grow by your own hand, it’s important to remember you don’t need to do all the work in your garden yourself. Gardening can be a very demanding activity, and getting help is more than justified. Arranging to have less work to do is a great way to prevent gardening injuries, especially if aging or old injuries are reducing your ability to work as efficiently as you have in the past.
9. Don’t plant more than you can maintain
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of spring or a vision of a big vegetable garden and purchase more plants than you can easily maintain. The more work you make for yourself, the more you increase the risk of gardening injuries over the growing season.
Make plant decisions carefully taking into consideration their maintenance and water needs, and use mulch to help reduce the amount of weeding you’ll need to do as well as retain soil moisture so you won’t have to drag the watering hose around as much. Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to spend harvesting vegetables later in the summer and plant according to your family’s needs.
10. Wear gloves to protect your hands
Part of the joy of gardening is playing in the dirt, but there are plenty of ways to cut or scrape unprotected hands. You may encounter sharp rocks or other objects hidden in the soil, biting insects, or plants and branches with spines or thorns as you work. Wearing gloves is a good way to prevent these types of gardening injuries as well as help prevent blisters when doing repetitive work like raking leaves.
How to Make Gardening in Containers Easier
Container gardening continues to grow in popularity. It’s a way to bring life and color to paved areas, decks, and balconies or add accents to flower borders. Gardeners are growing everything from vegetables and herbs to flowers and shrubs. But moving heavy pots around can be a real problem and can result in muscle strain or injury if not handled properly. You can lower the risk with a few simple tricks for keeping your pots and planter boxes as light weight as possible. Learn more in our article, Make Your Large Planters More Portable.