Time and time again, eager gardeners step into their gardens at the first sign of spring and step out of them with an achy wrist, an injured back and sore knees.
But with a few simple precautions and some before-and-after stretches, you can keep coaxing a healthy harvest out of the soil all season long.
Keeping things balanced — Balance the work between both sides of your body by alternating hands for weeding or switching sides while digging. Using your non-dominant side may seem awkward and inefficient at first, but it will help you be more conscious of your actions and may even help boost creativity. Break up your gardening into smaller jobs, take breaks and switch up your activity every 15 to 20 minutes. This will help you get more work in before fatigue sends you to the shower.
Make posture a priority — Keeping good posture and avoiding hunching and overreaching are key to keeping yourself injury-free while in the garden. When you are lifting, remember to get as close to the object as you can, use a wide (shoulder-width) stance, bend your knees and lift with your legs. Avoid twisting motions by turning your toes the direction you intend to move and step into the movement. This will ease tension in your back. If something like a large rock is too heavy to safely lift on your own, you can ask for help or let it be and exchange your veggie patch for a rock garden.
Use the right tools for the job — The right gear can make all the difference. Helpful equipment to prevent common injuries include knee pads to protect your joints, tools with long handles to lessen the need to bend, wheelbarrows or wagons for transporting supplies and, of course, a good pair of gloves, which every gardener needs. There are lots of options for easy-to-grip tools or ones with larger handles that can make the work easier on your hands. And if it’s a big job, don’t be afraid to bring out the motorized tools for a little added muscle.
Covering the Basics — Don’t forget the simple things like staying well-hydrated, and wearing sun protection like a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen. Avoiding peak sun exposure and the hotter times of the day by working in the morning can also help. No one wants sunburned shoulders or a peeling nose to keep them out of the garden.
Listen to Your Body — Don’t let those first few days of nice weather entice you into overdoing it. A day in the garden shouldn’t sideline you for the week to follow. Spending just a few minutes to warm up and stretch before any physical activity is a worthy investment in injury prevention.
Note: Kimberly Z. Miller, director of Health and Wellness and Healthy Living for the Eugene Family YMCA, is a 16-year veteran of fitness programming with an expertise in personal training and group exercise.