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How to protect your back while gardening

NHS statistics suggest that 80% of adults in the UK will suffer with back pain at some point in their lives. While the vast majority of back problems are minor and are resolved over time, getting into good habits in respect of the strain we place on our backs acts as insurance against later problems.

If you’ve ever transferred a couple of bags of compost from your car boot to the back garden, you’ll know that gardening can sometimes involve heavy lifting of awkwardly sized items, along kneeling and bending, which can easily lead to back strain. Here are a few tips on how to protect your back while still enjoying all the health and wellbeing benefits that gardening brings us.

Lifting safely

A full patio container, for example, can be surprisingly heavy, as can so many items in our gardens. If you can, get some help with lifting from a family member or a neighbour. Never tackle something that’s going to really strain you. Also, remember that a wheelbarrow can be invaluable, even if you’re just moving something a short way.

If whatever you need to lift is manageable, then lift carefully. Keep the object as close to your body as possible and lift with your legs and hips – not your back. Squat down, hinging at the hips, get a good hold of the object and then push your buttocks out and straighten your legs, so you’re protecting your lower back muscles and letting your legs do the work.

Avoid unnecessary bending

If you’re weeding or planting, use a padded kneeler and make sure it’s placed as close as possible to the area you’re working on, even if this means regular repositioning. Your aim is to avoid any side stretching, which can easily cause pulled muscles in your lower back.

For work in a greenhouse or potting shed, set up a planting table so that you’re able to stand straight while potting or transferring seedlings – about the same height as your kitchen work surface is ideal. Like in a kitchen, having equipment to hand makes life much easier, so trowels, secateurs, plant labels and garden twine should all sit on your workstation ready for use.

Weeding, mowing and watering

The rule for regular garden maintenance tasks is simple – don’t overdo it. If you feel any twinges, you should stop and only resume the task when any muscle pain has subsided. Little and often is the key, and any repetitive movements, like the backwards and forwards of mowing or the bending and stretching of weeding, should be done in relatively short bursts. Try to stand up straight and stretch out your back every few minutes.

Finally, when the garden chores are complete, and you’re ready to relax in your tidy, freshly mown garden space, make sure you’ve got an ergonomically sound place to sit. Add cushions to benches and chairs to support your lower back, place drinks or snacks within easy reach to minimise overstretching and protect those tired muscles with a snuggly blanket or a blazing firepit if the weather is cool.

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