One of the things I like best about summer is going out into my garden and picking my dinner. Right now I have lettuce, tomatoes, heads of cabbage, peppers, arugula, and some fine looking basil plants all just waiting for me to decide what to pluck and eat. In addition, my flower gardens are a joy to look at from the kitchen window as I prepare what I just picked.
Unfortunately, my garden also yields something that’s not so healthy–a sore lower back. The pain in my back is my body’s way of telling me I’ve done a little too much weeding, planting, and mulching. Luckily, with a little rest, and the humility to ask for help with the heavy lifting, I know I’ll be fine in a day or so.
As much as I love to see patients in my clinic, I hate to see people in pain, especially if that pain is avoidable. The good news is that with a little planning and prevention, gardening can be pain-free. Here are my best tips for keeping you outside in your garden and not at your local acupuncture clinic:
Avoid repetition. Many of the injuries that occur from gardening come from performing the same motions over and over. Switch it up to avoid repetitive stress injuries. If you have a job in the garden that’s going to take a couple of hours, take breaks, walk around, stretch, or do something else for a few minutes.
Your aching back. I’ve learned this from personal experience; to avoid back pain, use a wheel barrow or share heavy loads with someone else. If you’re weeding or planting, kneel if possible to avoid constantly bending over; it’s tough on your back!
Let pain be your guide. If you’re feeling any pain, especially in your back, it’s your body’s signal that it’s time to stop. Trust me, it will not get better if you keep going; it will only get worse.
Pace yourself. You don’t have to finish it all today. Remember, gardening is supposed to feed your soul as well as feed your family–the joy is in the process as well as in the end result.
Use the right tools. Use well-designed tools with grips that are either padded or non-slip material. Keep your gardening tools sharp and in good shape to reduce the physical effort needed to do the work.
Protect yourself. Wear gardening gloves to avoid injuries and infections. All kinds of bacteria and fungus live in the soil, and the smallest cut, if unprotected, can become infected. Wear sunscreen or cover up to avoid sunburn that damages and prematurely ages your skin. In addition, when the clouds of mosquitoes and black flies are really bad, I use a little bug repellant or wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
Beat the heat. When it’s really hot and/or humid, shorten up your time in the garden, or work in the early morning or evening when it’s a little cooler. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated–you’re working hard!
If all else fails…Get some help in the form of Chinese medicine and acupuncture–sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to treat an injury, the longer it takes to heal. Your acupuncturist can help loosen up your lower back, relieve carpal tunnel pain, treat your tennis elbow or any other injury you might get from over-gardening.
Working in the garden is a great way to get some exercise, grow your own local and organic foods, honor the season, and feed your soul. With a little prevention, the only thing I’d like to hear about is the abundant produce and beautiful flowers you’re growing–not your aches and pains!