With the warmer temperatures and sunny skies that the summer months bring, many people find themselves spending a greater amount of time outdoors. For many of us, this may include going on walks or hikes, swimming at a local beach, attending barbeques, or enjoying some time in our backyard gardens. Gardening, in particular, is a popular outdoor activity enjoyed by millions of Canadians during our somewhat abbreviated growing season. Most gardeners can attest to the fact that gardening is a great activity for the body, mind, and soul. Unfortunately, it is also an activity that can cause considerable difficulties for individuals dealing with chronic pain. If you consider yourself an avid “green thumb”, but are dealing with persistent pain issues, here are some tips to help you garden pain free.
Warm Up: Before you begin your gardening (or any prolonged activity for that matter), make sure to warm up first. You may want to go for a short walk to warm the muscles and follow this up with a full body stretch to get your muscles ready for work.
Work when you feel best: Try to find the time of day where you feel best physically, and get in the gardens then. For example, if you find your mornings to be tough due to muscle pain and stiffness, wait until the afternoon before you start your activity. This will help you avoid some of those larger flare-ups in pain and will allow you to be more productive in the end.
Take frequent breaks: When you begin to notice your pain increase, or feel a larger flare-up coming on, make sure you stop immediately. Even better, try to take a quick break every 15 minutes or so to avoid getting to the point of flare-up or severe pain. Grab some water, move around, and stretch it out.
Avoid repetitive movements: Try to switch tasks as often as you can to avoid repetitive motions. Staying in one position for too long or repeating the same movement over and over again can cause stiffness and pain to flare-up. Alternate between tasks that involve bending or stooping and those that involve standing and walking. Try to avoid slouching and watch your posture while gardening as well.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”: Remember that part of being smart with our activity levels is pacing ourselves and being realistic. Don’t feel like you need to accomplish everything in one day. Try to set out a few things you’d like to accomplish, and take your time doing them. Pace your activities and try to tackle one job at a time…your body will thank you later.
Use the right tools for the job: There are a variety of tools available that can help reduce the pain associated with gardening. Choose tools that are the right size and weight for your purposes. If bending at the waist causes you pain, try using long handled tools that allow you to stay upright during use. There are also a number of tools with telescoping handles that can extend to make reaching activities more manageable. Keeping your tools clean and sharp will reduce the amount of effort needed to complete certain gardening tasks as well.
“Garden smarter…not harder”: You can reduce the amount of effort needed to care for your gardens by planting low-maintenance plants. Opt for shrubs, grasses, and perennials instead of annuals that require replanting every year. Try pulling weeds or turning soil after a good rain that will soften the ground you are working. Consider investing in raised garden beds or try “vertical gardening” to reduce the amount of bending needed during activity. If you do need to crouch or rest on your knees, invest in a mat, knee pads, or use a homemade solution like folded up cardboard to reduce the strain on your joints. Buy smaller bags of soils, fertilizers, or mulches for easier transport and carrying. For transporting larger items, consider using a small wagon or cart, as they are much easier to manoeuvre than a traditional wheelbarrow.