Spring has finally arrived, meaning most home owners are preparing their lawns and gardens for planting. Countless hours are being spent weeding, mulching, and planting. Gardening can be a great active hobby. However, if not done with proper body mechanics gardening may have you doubled over in pain.
Ask yourself; what position do I use most when gardening? Bending over? Sitting? On hands and knees? Let’s examine these potential postures when working in the garden to determine which is the best option.
Forward bending is a common culprit for back pain. As we bend over, improper hamstring flexibility and hip mobility will lead to flexing through the spine. Flexing through the spine while standing and adding a load (pulling a weed) can increase lumbar disc pressure by more than 100%! (1)
Your discs may be able to tolerate that task once… but when you multiply that motion after several hours of repetitive weed pulling damage is likely to occur. The forces placed on your spine are adding up exponentially. Forward bending is not an ideal gardening posture.
Sitting on the ground requires significant range of motion through your hips. Our daily routines of sitting in a chair will cause hip flexor, hamstring, and hip rotation tightness. Making this style of unsupported sitting difficult. If the motion can’t come from the hips it has to come from somewhere, right?
Your spine will attempt to compensate for lack of hip mobility. Reaching and twisting over several hours increases the pressure of your discs significantly and causes excessive movement of the spine. Sitting unsupported increases your disc pressure by almost 50% (1). If sitting and standing have been ruled out as proper body positions, what is left?
An ideal posture when working in the garden is the quadruped position. This position is highly stable as it allows for five points of contact with the ground at all times (two feet, two knees, one hand). This stability keeps the lumbar spine in a neutral position, lessening disc pressure. While utilizing this position we can maneuver with ease to reach for weeds and move from place to place. Our hips, abdominals, and back muscles are highly active while in this posture. Remember to use good body mechanics to avoid injuries while in your garden all summer long!
1. Nachemson, ALF L. MD. Disc Pressure Measurements. Spine. 1981.