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We figured out how to not hurt your back while gardening

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisMay 23, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/Kathrin Ziegler

Plants are one the few things truly thriving in quarantine, but it isn’t a hobby without its (literal) growing pains. In fact, whether you’re green to gardening or harvest seasonally, you’ve probably experienced a backache after gardening (or just general soreness after the fact). I get it, you want to reap the benefits of being a plant mom, but a full day of being all Quasimodo is killing you. What gives?

“There’s a lot of added stress on the back when gardening due to the fact that the body is in a forward-flexed, hunched position for a prolong period of time,” says Jaclyn Fulop, a board-licensed PT and the founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group. “Reversing the natural curvature of the back postural syndrome will affect the joint surfaces, muscles, tendons, and the discs in the spine. Consciously learning and maintaining good posture, even when in awkward body positions like gardening, can prevent body aches, pains, and injuries.”

Luckily, a few posture correctors can help you stay upright. Beyond that, there are a few actionable methods to keep those shooting back pains at bay. Below, Fulop advises how to remedy a backache after gardening before it happens.

1. Avoid standing and bending forward from the waist

“Instead position yourself in quadruped—on all fours—with the back as straight as possible and use one hand to support your body weight and the other hand for gardening,” says Fulop. “Switch hands periodically.”

If you are pulling something heavy out of the ground or moving a bag of soil, you should remember to bend at the hips, knees in a squatting position (not in front of the waist), keeping the back straight and upright while contracting your abdominals.

“When lifting heavy objects, it’s important to focus on using the big and powerful muscles in the hips, like the hamstrings and glutes, instead of the smaller muscles in the low back,” says Fulop. “Grab with both hands and make sure you’re lifting as close to your body as possible when you straighten your knees.”

3. Keep up with your stretches when you’re starting to feel stiff

“Every five minutes or so, stand up and perform standing extension back bends,” Fulop says. “Standing lumbar extension is great to perform to prevent trigger points from forming or too much additional strain to the spine.”

To execute, stand with your feet shoulder with apart, bend slowly as far back as you can, hold the end position for five seconds, and then return to standing positions. Do 10 repetitions for maximum impact!

4. Pay attention to how you’re leaning

Remember, a lot of salvaging your back boils down to how much bending and exertion it has to do. Maintaining straight posture is the key to avoiding any unnecessary curving.

“If you can remember to lean forward at the hips instead of the waist to avoid rounding your back, you are putting yourself in a better, more functional position while adding less stress to the body,” Fulop says.

5. incorporate some lower back stretches before and after gardening

Prone press-ups, hip flexor stretches, and bridges are just a few ways you can stay flexy and feeling fine. Likewise, any of the big three back exercises could be a good way to bookend plant time.

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