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Down to EarthTips for Gardening:

Spending lots of time in your garden this summer? If so, you’re hardly alone. According to www.statistica.com, more than 118 million Americans will be right there with you. It’s just the beginning of the gardening season and your back already feels like it should be September. Why does the back take such a beating? Maybe it’s lifting heavy bags of mulch. Maybe it’s all the digging and pulling? Maybe it’s all the bending and squatting? Regardless, knowing how to minimize stress on the back is essential to making it to September without a serious back strain. And there are some key things that will help you.
Gardening needs to be taken seriously and treated like any other physical activity. A stretching routine is essential to help you avoid injury. Stretching before, during and after helps to minimize muscle imbalances, decrease muscle soreness, and improve your ability to garden for longer periods. The stretches below are designed for people without current injuries. If you have an injury, or a specific muscle imbalance that may be inhibiting your ability to garden, your physical therapist can design a stretching program specific for you.  This month we cover body mechanics and ergonomic tools. So before you grab your shovel, keep the following tips in mind:

Be Sure to Stretch
Stretch after a 5-minute warm up. A brisk walk around your yard to get the heart rate and body temperature up can do the trick, then stretch while your muscles are still warm. Use this time to assess and think about your best plan for tackling the task at hand. Stretch after a period of prolonged squatting, lifting or bending, as well as after you’ve finished your work.

When is the Best Time to Stretch
Rules For Stretching
• Be sure to stretch while the muscles are still warm.
• Slowly take your muscles to the end of their range. You
will feel slight resistance in the muscle.
• Hold the stretch in a static position. Do not bounce.
• Maintain each stretch for 20-30 seconds. Repeat each
stretch 2-3 times.
• Don’t forget to stretch both sides. The stretching
program shown above will take about 5-10 minutes to

Enjoy Yourself But Don’t Strain Yourself
Even with the simplest tasks, improper lifting technique can lead to unnecessary strains and sprains.
• When lifting heavy items, including soil bags or your wheelbarrow, use your legs and not your back. Keep your back in a fairly straight position. Gently pull in your tummy muscles before lifting to better support your torso. Keep the load close into your body. Don’t twist while lifting or setting items down; move your feet, not just your back.
• Use a gardening stool or pad for extended weeding or planting. Some of these stools have wheels and a swivel seat so you can minimize twisting. Others have pockets for taking tools along with you.
• Consider raised beds when designing your garden. Taller beds mean less bending, reducing the strain on your back.
• Mix it up by alternating hard and easy tasks. Aim for three different activities each hour.
Use the Right tools
Having the right tools makes every job easier; using them the right way makes them safer, too.
• Gloves that are too big will cause you to grip more forcefully. This leads to stress in the muscles of the hand,
elbow and forearm.
• Hand tools: When choosing tools, be sure you can comfortably hold onto the grip while adding pressure to the working end. Keep your tools sharp, reducing the force you need to use them.
• Large garden tools often have ergonomically modified handles made to fit your grip more comfortably. A good fit helps the tool do the work – so you don’t have to.
• Watch your step Set all hoes, rakes, and other tools with horizontal teeth or blades, sharp edge down, on the ground when not being used.
• Wheelbarrows: Try before you buy! Toss a bag of potting soil into the tub and give it a go right in the shop. Be sure to bring along your usual gardening gloves and wear them when you do.
• Garden Hoses: Select hoses that are light weight and flexible. Pulling a heavy stiff hose can put stress on your hands and shoulders as well as your back.

Gardening is fun, satisfying and good exercise, too. Pay attention to these tips for a safe and enjoyable summer outdoors. But if you overdo it, ErgoScience Physical Therapy can help. Call (205) 278-2250 today for an initial consultation at our convenient Mountain Brook location. You’ll be glad you did!

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