Spring has sprung and it’s time to bring that garden back from the grave. “It hurts to kneel and bend” is one of the most common complaints I hear from patients while tending to their garden. There are more efficient ways to get down to plant level without beating up your knees or low back. We’ll discuss:
- Why is it difficult/uncomfortable?
- Strategies to kneel and bend safely
- Options for treatment if you need more help
What’s Causing the Trouble?
Kneeling is often a difficult activity for those who have a recent knee trauma, arthritis, or cartilage breakdown. In a 2017 study, it was estimated that over 91 million people in the US had difficulty due to arthritis. The underside of the kneecap is a hotspot for arthritis and when we kneel, this can compress the kneecap against bone. Most of these individuals will feel pain while kneeling because it puts extra pressure on tissues that are already inflamed.
You may have known someone who has damaged cartilage inside their knee. This cartilage is so important as it serves to dampen stress when we’re upright – walking, standing, climbing. Think of it as the suspension in a car. If the suspension is worn down, the ride becomes a bit bumpier.
Kneeling is a struggle for those with knee injuries, but bending and lifting can be a real hurdle for those with low back pain.
Bending can be difficult if your hips aren’t working hard enough and your spine has to pick up the slack. We’ve all heard the old saying: “lift with your legs”, but this leaves a lot for interpretation. The saying should be “lift with your hips” – they’re designed to accept the high load and are more suitable than our knees or spine for taking repetitive stress like bending in your garden.
Our hips are the foundation of our spine. The foundation must be strong in order to support what’s above. If they aren’t strong enough, the spine must ‘shoulder’ the extra load. This can spell injury or insult to an existing achy back. The key to bending safely is in using the muscles around our hips for leverage rather than the much smaller muscles in our back.
If you’d like more information about bending and lifting safely, you can schedule a free, one-on-one discovery visit with one of our therapists here.
Check out this video for a few simple strategies to help you garden safely:
In summary, there are several easy ways to modify bending and kneeling while working in your garden;
- Use gardeners pads or knee pads for kneeling
- Practice squatting with your hips
- Try lifting with the “golfers lift”
- Work on small patches of the garden at a time and take frequent breaks
If you’d like a more customized approach or would like to speak directly with one of our Physical Therapists, you can schedule your free appointment here.
Jafarzadeh, S. Reza, and David T. Felson. “Updated estimates suggest a much higher prevalence of arthritis in united states adults than previous ones.” Arthritis & Rheumatology 70.2 (2018): 185-192
Powell, Kenneth E., et al. “Injury rates from walking, gardening, weightlifting, outdoor bicycling, and aerobics.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 30.8 (1998): 1246-1249.