The Southeastern Spine Institute

Avoid back pain with these back-saving suggestions

The warm outdoors is calling. Spring in Charleston is a fine time to head out and plant flowers and vegetables, trim the lawn and beautify your home’s landscape. But if you’ve been sitting on the couch all winter or haven’t been bending and twisting at the gym on a regular basis, all those beckoning garden duties can lead to back pain, which will put a damper on your gardening quicker than an approaching hurricane.

If you’ve undergone a recent procedure or are involved in back pain treatment, you may be especially vulnerable to re-injuring your body. Or worse. Talk to your spine doctor before beginning any rigorous gardening to prevent complications.

Get Up and Go

But if you feel you’re ready for the garden, then “watch out, weeds.” Follow these tips and you can enjoy your tomatoes and tulips without hurting yourself:

  1. Stretch before you head outdoors. A few minutes spent stretching before you begin working in the garden may save you hours of back pain. Sit on your front stoop and stretch your legs out. Reach for your toes and hold the stretch for a count of 20. Hug yourself before you hug a tree and rotate your torso from side to side. Never stretch beyond your comfort level.
  1. Walk around your yard a few times before you pick up any gardening tools. A short walk does wonders for loosing up your legs and back to prevent strain. Swing your arms as you make a plan for your gardening foray.
  1. Change positions often. If you’re raking, for example, switch sides frequently. Bend for short periods, and then stand upright as you move to another spot.
  1. Lighten your load as the day progresses. While you may feel strong and capable when you begin gardening, the risk of developing back pain increases as the day wears on and you become more fatigued.
  1. Lift properly with your knees bent. Hug the load you’re moving close to your body and refrain from twisting while holding any significant weight.
  1. Push more often than you pull. Push the wheelbarrow, seeder and lawnmower. When tilling, move your body so you can push the dirt instead of pulling it.
  1. Breathe evenly while you’re working, especially when you are straining, lifting or moving a heavy object. Holding your breath reduces the blood supply to your legs and back and can lead to back pain and herniation.
  1. Dress comfortably. Sandals and open-toed shoes can lead to accidents that could cause you to fall and hurt your back. Wearing socks also prevents slippage and potential back pain.
  1. Take breaks. Stop every 30 minutes to rest, stretch and loosen up. Stretch in the opposite direction to counter all the bending you’ve been doing or lie on the ground and shake out your arms and legs. Rehydrate during these breaks too!
  1. Create an ergonomic garden. Consider raised beds to prevent stooping. Plant in narrow rows so you won’t have to reach as far when weeding. Think about the work it will take to maintain your garden in the initial planning stages.

Stop If Back Pain Occurs

Pain is the body’s most reliable monitor. Pay attention to it. At the first signs of discomfort, take a break and stretch. If back pain persists, follow up soon with your doctors at the Southeastern Spine Institute. You may just need to adjust the way you move or invest in some new tools to take pressure off your back. Listen to your body’s signals and you will enjoy a bounty every summer and fall for years to come.