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Avoiding back injuries while in your garden

I’ve never been particularly preoccupied about exercise; I’m more concerned about how I feel. I measure my health with my ability to awaken with nature. The first morning song of the mockingbird signals the beginning of my day. And the prospect of the rites of early spring gardening absolutely thrills me. But gardeners beware — after a winter of inactivity, you should “warm up” to the tasks that await you.

Springtime gardeners are especially susceptible to back injuries, cautions Living Healthy magazine. And little wonder. After a winter of little or no exercise, many gardeners literally leap into action, trying to get everything done in a single weekend. Often, the end result is an injury and serious pain.

Dr. Bill Anderson, of the Sleepy Hollow Medical Group, recommends common sense steps to reduce the odds of strains and pain.

“Although being in shape is helpful,” he said, “avoid sudden changes in physical activity. Take it easy at first with the digging and lifting. Lift those bags of trash properly, by bending your knees, not your back.”

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Once the cleanup is done, you must still protect your back, even when planting tomatoes and flowers. I have discovered that sitting and leaning on one arm while planting will ease stress on your back.

Whenever possible, carry two equal weight loads to prevent uneven stress of back muscles (that doesn’t mean carrying two bags of mulch at once). Whatever the gardening activity, Catharine reminds me to wear proper footwear and always maintain a firm footing to avoid slipping and possibly injuring myself.

Dr. Chuck McElwee, an orthopedic specialist, has offered some additional steps outside the garden to avoid back problems. His admonition to not slouch as you walk or sit has definitely helped me.

“When sitting, it may be helpful to support your lower back with a small pillow,” he said. “Avoid sleeping on a too-soft mattress, as it offers improper support for your back.”

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If you are experiencing back pain, try to refrain from heavy work in the garden. Although this may prove to be difficult if you are a professional gardener or a garden fanatic, rest generally cures the occasional aches and pains.

If you feel a “pull” in your back while working, Anderson suggests, “Stretch immediately. Squat with your arms around your knees for 10 seconds and repeat twice.”

He recommends seeing your doctor if back pain persists or worsens.

Most doctors agree that gardening leads to a healthier life.

“As a physical activity, gardening has a lot to offer,” he said. “It combines stretching and bending, and is great exercise for preventative care. The physical benefits for arthritis sufferers are far superior to pills that may upset your stomach.”

I couldn’t have said it better.


STEVE KAWARATANI is married to writer Catharine Cooper. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to plantman2@mac.com .


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