Preventing Gardening Injuries

Yoga for Gardeners

by Gail Dubinsky, MD

Gardening injuries can be divided into 4 types: acute or sudden accidents, cumulative or repetitive injuries, often caused by poor ergonomics; those caused by improper body mechanics, and those resulting from lack of strength and flexibility. 

Nowhere is the “ounce of prevention” so important and truly worth a “ton” of cure. Taking the time and care to assess one’s energy /fatigue level and not working beyond it, optimizing ergonomics with clean, sharp and appropriate tools; never taking shortcuts with good body mechanics; pacing, varying activities, and taking rest/stretch breaks; and  pre or post gardening stretching sessions are highly important and effective strategies to minimize stiffness, soreness or worse!

Stretch frequently using available surfaces

Stretch frequently using available surfaces

We can also classify gardening injuries by body part. Injuries to the low back and “hips”, can include bulging or herniated discs, ligament sprains, particularly sacro-iliac (“S.I.); muscle sprains or spasms, pinched nerves, or aggravation of arthritis. For prevention,

DO: hinge at the hips, use legs instead of your back to lift, keep feet, knees, and front of body in the same plane, and engage your core when lifting. DON’T: lock your knees bend from the back, or combine bending, lifting, twisting, outstretched reaching!!

Injuries to the neck, upper back and “shoulders” (trapezius muscles) are similar to those in the low back. DO: incorporate upper back into neck movements looking up or down, and stabilize shoulder blades  while reaching. DON’T: hunch shoulders overreaching forwards or upwards, or do prolonged overhead work.

Injuries to the shoulder joint, elbows wrists and hands include impingement from bone spurs, aggravation of arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, ligament/joint sprains, nerve impingement such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and trigger finger. DO: protect joints with splints, proper position and body mechanics, use the correct sharp tools, take breaks and vary tasks and “sides”.(It may feel very awkward and slow you down at first, but becoming more ambidextrous is a great way to decrease uneven wear and tear.)

DON’T: do prolonged overhead work, overfill shovels or wheelbarrows, or engage in overambitious weeding and pruning sessions!

Injuries to knees involve aggravation of arthritis or injury/degeneration of patellar (kneecap) or meniscus cartilage. DO: always keep knees aligned over center toes.

DON’T: twist knees with feet planted or while kneeling, or repetitively squat up and down.

Although not an athletic sport, gardening can still be intense, prolonged, or repetitive

Physical Activity. If gardening is your passion, you most likely want to be in it for the long haul, and not be sidelined long term (or worse, permanently!) by debilitating back, neck, or other joint pain, muscle sprains, carpal tunnel syndrome, and the like.

A modicum of body conditioning, self awareness and common sense will serve you well.

The practice of hatha yoga can provide the flexibility and strength to make your garden work more fluid and graceful. And like yoga, in gardening we come to a state of union with the cycles of nature, and our connection to the divine around and within us.

Gail Dubinsky MD has specialized in orthopedic medicine in Sebastopol for the past 17 years, and teaches yoga in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. She is the creator of the instructional DVD programs “Yoga for Gardeners” and “R.S.I.? Rx:Yoga!”

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