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Pain-Free Gardening

As we celebrate National Allotment week this month, Jane gives us her view ….

Plant & Shovel without the back trouble….. Allotmenteers guide to preventing back pain.

As prices in the shops rise so does the fashion for growing your own and having an allotment. Whilst it’s great to have your own fresh vegetables that haven’t been sprayed or tampered with in any way and taste fabulous, to get to that point takes hard work and dedication. Not least on you back. Much of the work on the allotment is not really great for many people with back problems, activities such as seeding, weeding, digging, watering, and lifting can place strain and stress on our backs, particularly when carried out badly, and difficult positions being held for long periods of time. By doing things the wrong way it’s easy to understand how back pain can arise from our pursuits in the garden. About 80% of people experience low back pain at some stage in their lives. How many times do you hear people saying oh I hurt my back when I was digging on the allotment / garden yet most injuries are preventable. So here are some tips to reduce the risk to your back: Lifting

  • Stand Close to the Load: Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart, head up, feet and body pointing in a straight line with the item you are lifting. Pivot with your feet, don’t twist your body whilst carrying the load.

  • Knees Bent, Back Straight: Check the weight of what you are lifting. Use your leg and arm muscles to help you slowly lift.

  • Easy Does It: Bend your knees and slowly lower the load to its resting place.

  • Do not lift heavy objects above your waist.

  • Avoid heavy lifting immediately after prolonged bending and kneeling.

The Right Moves Using the right moves can go a long way to enabling you to plant and rake without the ache.

  • Warm up before starting to garden by gently stretching your muscles. If it's cold, wait until later in the day when it's warmer

  • Never dig when the ground in wet or there is a heavy frost - it is difficult to do, making the soil heavier and also not good for the soil structure

  • Positioning your body correctly reduces strain on muscles and joints: do not repetitively lifting heavy loads, alternate it with lighter loads

  • Changing Hands: Take the strain off by changing the position of your hands

  • Check Your Position: And change it often. Kneel then Stand or simply sit and relax for a while, but don’t maintain any one position over a prolonged period

  • Kneel to Plant: Use knee pads or a kneeling mat to reduce the strain whilst you plant and weed. Keep your back straight and stop frequently to take a break.

  • Rake Right: Ease the strain on your back by putting one leg in front, the other behind. Switch legs and hands from time to time, whilst it might feel strange it’s good to try and even up your movements. The Right Tools Choose tools that ergonomically designed, and are the correct tool for the job.

  • Choose tools which have padded handles where possible.

  • Use pruners and loppers that have a ratchet system. This makes cutting easier and saves putting pressure on the back and shoulders.

  • Keep the blades sharp to avoid extra strain.

  • A hose is easier to manage than a watering can.

  • A good wheelbarrow can help move heavier loads.

  • Separate a larger load into several small ones.

  • Wear comfortable, thick soled, supportive and non- slip shoes.

  • Use ergonomically designed, long handled, lightweight tools.

  • Put secateurs in a holster attached to your belt. This saves having to constantly bend down to pick them up.

Aside from using the correct posture and tools, taking frequent breaks and walking around and stretching to ensure not staying in the same position for too long, there are other things that you can do with your vegetable garden / allotment design to help prevent back pain...

Allotment / Vegetable garden layout

  • Avoid leaving bare patches of soil as they encourage weeds to grow. Mulch the surface of the soil using chipped bark or well-rotted manure. This helps to retain the soil's moisture, saving on watering.

  • Reduce the need to bend down by raising vegetable beds from the ground.

  • Keep raised beds narrow so you don't have to stretch over plants.

  • If you are a fan of fruit, choose fruit trees grown on dwarf rootstocks so you can pick the fruit at a comfortable height. Or train fruit trees against a wall or solid structure (espaliers).

Container grown vegetables

  • Many vegetables such as courgettes, potatoes and lettuce will grow successfully in pots, but the containers can also be raised. When moving containers, use a trolley or wheelbarrow to make it easier.

No-dig method

  • The no-dig method of gardening involves spreading manure or compost and fertiliser over the surface of a bed. It's ideal for gardeners with bad backs or those who want to grow vegetables but can't face the thought of all that double digging (digging to twice the depth of a spade). Many gardeners argue that the no-dig method is better for the soil because it doesn't disturb the soil structure. Whilst it initially involves digging over the soil to remove perennial weeds and levelling the soil, the following years are much easier

However back or muscle pain that last longer than 48 hours is your body’s way of saying it needs help, so if it persists don’t wait too long to get it looked at. Back pain can be helped by a range of therapists, manual therapists such as a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor or by using needles such as Acupuncture. If you would like more information on back pain, please click here or contact us to discuss which treatment could help you.


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