Documents: Special Interest: Horticultural Therapy:

Gardening Safety

...April 19-May 19, 2003 is National Physiotherapy Month 2003
by Alberta Physiotherapy Association
May 11, 2003

Physiotherapists across the country want to help gardeners stay pain-free during this year’s gardening season. Every spring thousands of Canadians hit their yards and gardens in weekend splurges of planting, weeding and landscaping. Sore necks, backs, knees and muscles can happen after these spurts of activity. Especially after a long winter when we’ve all been a little less active.

Gardening is one of the best activities for keeping you FRESH, by maintaining good:


Nobody has to tell you, as gardeners, what an active pursuit it is. You already know that. But what you may not think about is that there are ways to stretch, pace yourself, move properly, use appropriate equipment and care for any injuries that you would probably do for any other sport.

You may be asking yourself, what does physiotherapy have to do with gardening?

Most gardening injuries are preventable. Physiotherapists have the education and applied knowledge to offer advice on injury prevention and can offer tips and techniques that will help keep your gardening pain-free and fun.

Physiotherapy is the health care profession dedicated to enhancing and restoring mobility. When you are free to move – when you have mobility – you feel better and can enjoy life more, and in this case you can enjoy your gardening more.

April 19-May 19, 2003 is National Physiotherapy Month 2003.

This year, physiotherapists want gardeners to keep in mind the following
FIVE key points:






  1. STRETCH BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER- Think about how to start your gardening with a nice light warm-up. For example, start by walking around your yard to determine a plan for your gardening. Try some easy raking to raise your heart rate and warm up your muscles. As you collect your tools together, give your major muscle groups a good stretch.

    Throughout your activities, take a stretch break every half-hour. If you’ve been kneeling, stand up, walk around and admire your work. Change your position or task frequently, to minimize strain on a particular set of muscles. At the end of your day, as you put your tools away, give your body the stretches it needs. Walk around your yard or your neighbourhood and admire the gardens coming to life.

  2. PACE YOURSELF – Start out slowly and pace yourself. Remember you haven’t been in the garden or doing yard work since last summer. Don’t try to plant everything in one day! Plan out your tasks. Take frequent stretch breaks (every half-hour). Change positions and tasks frequently. If you were pruning, now try planting. If a position is causing problems, move out of it.

  3. DO IT RIGHT – Be aware of your posture and body mechanics to help minimize the strain on your body.

  4. FIT THE TOOL TO THE GARDENER NOT THE GARDENER TO THE TOOL – Use ergonomically-correct tools, where available.


    · Keep your tools close to your body so you do not bend your back. Use long-handled tools suited to your height. Use your arms, and do not twist.

    · If you tend to bend over and reach too far while raking, you may consider using one of the ergonomic rakes designed to eliminate that tendency.


    · Do not bend right over from the waist. Squat or kneel on a kneeling pad. If you have difficulty getting up, use a kneeling pad/bench with a support handle to assist you in getting up.

    · You can give your back, legs and knees a break from stooping and kneeling if you use tools with long handles to help with the weeding.

    · It’s better to squat or sit on the ground in order to trowel rather than bending over. You may find it helpful to kneel using padding for the knees to avoid excessive and prolonged pressure.


    · Insert the head of the shovel vertically into the ground and step on the blade. Lift small amounts at a time. Keep knees bent and don’t twist. Use a wheelbarrow to move big or heavy loads.

    · You can give your back a break from shoveling if you use a smaller shovel reducing the temptation to lift large, heavy shovel fulls.

    · Choose a shovel with a weight and handle length that is appropriate for your size and for the job you are doing.


    · Know your limits and lift properly: bend your knees, not your back. Keep the load close to your body. Don’t lift items that are too heavy for you to handle – get help! Use a garden cart or a wheelbarrow when possible to move or carry heavy items.

    · You may find that a four-wheeled cart is sturdier and easier for you to use than a wheelbarrow.


    · Get as close to your work as possible. Don’t stretch beyond your reach or your stable footing. Rehearse the movement as a stretch first to test your ability and positioning. Keep your tools sharp to make the job easier.

    · Choose pruning and trimming tools with a weight and handle length that is appropriate for your size and for the job you are doing.

    · Look for padded handles that make it easier to grip and apply pressure without causing you to grip excessively.

    · Ensure the tool fits comfortably in your hand for easy use.

    Here are a few other tips about doing it right:

    · Remember: move your feet instead of twisting at the spine. If it is not possible to avoid twisting, tighten your stomach muscles in order to protect your back.

    · Don’t forget to take breaks often and change your position or task frequently.

    Here are a few other tips to keep in mind about fitting the tool to the gardener not the gardener to the tool:

    · Tools with larger, padded handles are useful for those with arthritis in the hands. You can enlarge tool handles with grip tape or foam tubing from the hardware store.

    · Tools with tubular steel rather than wood tend to be more lightweight and may be easier to use, or if weight and ease of handling are an issue, try small, lightweight children’s size tools.

    · Build a potting bench or use a counter top that is at a height that will prevent unnecessary bending.

    · Wear a gardening apron with several pockets for carrying tools you use frequently, or keep them close at hand, so you don’t have to stretch and twist to reach the tool you need.

    · Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands and joints.

    · Keep your tools (such as your pruners) sharp to make cutting easier.

  5. CARE FOR YOUR INJURIES – If you do over exert yourself or are stiff the next day, here’s what you can do:

    · Gently stretch the area that is sore (example)

    · Rest – don’t go right back out and do more of the same activity

    · Go for an easy walk around the block admiring your neighbours’ gardens

    · Use an ice pack on the sore area – no more than ten minutes at a time

    · Take a nice hot bath or shower.

If stiffness or pain persists, contact your local physiotherapist. You don’t need a doctor’s referral to see a physiotherapist.

For more information, contact:
Alberta Physiotherapy Association
Suite 401, Energy Square
10109-106 Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 3L7
Ph: (780) 431-0569 Fax: (780) 431-1069

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