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11 Tips for Injury Free Spring Gardening

It's that time of year again and the thing outside needs attention. Not the dog, the garden. If it hasn't started growing already it will very soon do so. There's a lot of preparation to be done if we are to take advantage of the growing season for flowers, vegetables and beautiful lawns.

The sudden increase in digging the garden is rapidly followed by a burst of injuries such as back and neck pain and other joint pains. Much of this pain and suffering could be avoided with some preparation and planning.

Most of us do much less physical activity or active pursuits during the winter so when the spring arrives we are extremely unprepared for any sort of outdoor work. Let alone the demanding work of digging and getting the garden into some sort of order for the planting to be done.

Warming up is one of the advice tips given and this has some validity but I don't think it goes anywhere far enough. No matter how well you warm up, if you do too many hours digging without building up fitness for it you will suffer. If the forces you put on your bodily structures exceed their tolerances, something will give however warmed up you are.

Preparation by warming up may well be essential but if you omit to keep activity levels under control, you may not be able to manage useful levels of work. Winter means we have all done less physical activity, particularly exercise, and our tissues will have a reduced tolerance to physical stresses. Athletes do not go out and perform their event at full tilt when they start training but gradually increase the intensity of training and performance.

Most people fall into the mistake of overdoing things significantly when they start out a new activity, usually because the body does not tell us that we have overdone things until its too late. This makes the decision about the level of activity we should do very difficult to judge. If we get out there in the garden, grab a spade and start digging we are highly at risk of doing too much.

All the major therapy professions such as physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic experience a rapid increase in injuries and pain conditions relating to gardening and other outdoor activities at this time of year. Low back pain is the commonest, with other joint and ligamentous strains also typically occurring. Many people aggravate a pre-existing condition.

11 Tips for Avoiding Injury and Getting Fit for the Garden

1. Keep up activity and exercise during the winter so you are not totally unprepared.

2. Do gentle stretches each time before you get going.

3. Kneel down if you can, especially for planting, weeding and collecting debris.

4. Decide how long you will work and when your breaks will be before you start.

5. Start with very short defined times of activity initially and keep the task down to two hours or less in the first few days if you are fit. If you have problems this will need to be lower.

6. Plan a graded increase in activity, using pacing technique, sticking to times you have decided.

7. Make sure you stick to the times you have decided, especially if you feel really good and want to do much more. This is a trap.

8. Share heavy loads with someone else and use good lifting technique.

9. Avoid side to side swinging movements with a mower; use a steady forwards and backwards movement instead.

10. Change tasks routinely, ensuring you don't do consecutive tasks which are physically similar. Digging could be followed by a bit of pruning or raking to give the position a rest.

11. If you feel a pain or strain, stop for the day and assess how you are the next day. Reduce the level of activity if you are a bit stiff and sore but if your pain is significant you might need advice.

Pacing is the key skill and the ability to decide how much to do before you start. And to stick to your decisions.

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