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How to save your back and work in the garden.

How to save your back and work in the garden

Most gardening chores require a lot of bending, stooping, and lifting. Every time you hoist a full watering can, lean over to pull a weed, or reach up to prune a branch, you risk straining your back. If you're overambitious or out of condition, you're a prime candidate. Even if you're in top condition, one wrong movement when carrying a heavy load can throw your back out of whack.

Dr. Robert L. Swezey, medical director of the Arthritis and Back Pain Center in Santa Monica, California, offers gardeners some basic guidelines for preventing a sore back. "Don't take your back for granted,' he says, "or you'll end up watching the weeds take over the garden. If you follow some simple rules, you may save yourself a lot of pain.'

Plan your activities. Break the project down into small components rather than trying to accomplish everything in one day. Pace yourself--especially if you're not in great physical shape. Don't work your back beyond what it's used to doing.

Try to determine ahead of time whether any of your chores--lifting heavy bags of soil or moving large pots--could hurt your back. Ask for help--and not just for the hardest tasks. If your garden's soil is heavy, have it rotary-tilled and amended; at planting time, it'll be much easier to shovel at less risk to your back.

Intermingle chores so you don't hold the same position or lift heavy loads for long. Many tasks may not strain your back directly, but if you use the same motion or posture continuously--as when clipping a hedge--your back may suffer anyway. Move around, making sure to change posture at least every 20 minutes or so.

Stretch your muscles. Before rushing out to do heavy gardening tasks, loosen up with a few stretching exercises (if you have medical problems or you aren't certain how to stretch, consult a physician). Don't move from a sedentary position and immediately begin lifting or digging. And after you've been gardening for a while, take a break and stretch muscles again.

This is especially important if you've been in the car for some time; stuck in one position, back muscles often stiffen.

Use the right tools for the job. Ladders, dollies or wagons, and long-handled tools can help you avoid bending in the garden. Nurseries and mail-order catalogs offer long-handled versions of many tools, including pruners, trowels, and weeders.

Small, lightweight versions of shovels and spading forks are often easier on the back than traditional ones. (Their size even keeps you from lifting too much soil.)

Working with poorly maintained tools puts added strain on all of the muscles. Keep wheelbarrows and tools oiled and shovels and pruning tools sharp so they can be operated easily.

Use good posture. Bending, twisting, and lifting are the three activities with the greatest potential for damaging the back.

Our photographs demonstrate posture-improving tips that can be applied to almost all gardening chores. The most important things to remember are to keep your back straight, flex your knees so they act as shock absorbers, pivot instead of twist, bend from the hips instead of the waist, and don't overextend your arms.

Avoid carrying heavy objects; use wagons or dollies to move them. When lifting a heavy bag, place one hand under it and the other on top. Lift with your legs--not your back--keeping the bag close to your body. Don't grab and lift it by the top.

Get close to high jobs by using a step ladder. If you still have to reach, use a long-handled tool.

When hoeing or raking, don't bend over the tools. Keep your back straight (but not rigid), bend your knees, and keep the handle close to your body. (You can buy handle attachments to raise your grip and keep your back straighter.)

It's hard to maintain good posture when planting, but try. Kneel instead of bending (use knee pads or a cushion to protect the knees). Reduce pressure on either knee by using one hand for more support.

Watch for signs of back distress; if they appear, take a break or call it a day.

Photo: Digging. Keep back straight at all times. Stay close to the blade when pushing shovel in, don't overload it. To lift (lowest position shown above), bend knees, grab the handle near the blade, and rise. When pivoting, make sure that your feet and shoulders turn together

Photo: Lifting. Step close to the object--or slide it toward you. Keeping back straight, squat or bend on one knee. To rise, straighten legs; you're using leg--not back--muscles for strength.

Photo: Bend the knees--not the back. When holding heavy objects such as watering cans, keep knees flexible. To lean over, bend at the hips

Photo: Work close to the body. Keep elbows close to sides when using heavy tools such as hedge trimmer. To reach higher, use a ladder

Photo: Use tools to extend reach. Don't strain your back by overreaching; use long-handled tools like this watering wand

Photo: Raised to hip level with a 2 1/2-foot length of galvanized pipe, hose bibb is now within easy reach-- and doesn't require bending
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Feb 1, 1988
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