Spring is here! The sky is getting blue, flowers are blooming, and the weather is warming. For many of us, gardening is something we take pleasure in doing. We love the way our yards look when our gardens are in full bloom and the grass is thick and green. However, it's a lot of work! Sometimes painful work! Bending forward, lifting heavy mulch bags, raking - it can all add up to some serious pain. Here are some tips to help you garden with less discomfort.
1) Pace yourself- Just like with a sport, our bodies cannot go from couch potato to 10K status overnight. The same is true with gardening. There are just certain positions or motions we don't do for prolonged periods outside of gardening season. Don't think that you can work in the yard for 8 hours your first day out without repercussions. If you do need to spend a lot of time in one day working on projects, take breaks at least every 30 minutes. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop and sit down, but walk around the yard or simply work on a different task for a bit of time. When we start on a repetitive task that keeps us in a certain position or doing a task like raking, our muscles fatigue after some time. When that happens and we "push through," our body compensates by using alternate muscles to get the job done. When that happens, pain develops. It's better to give your muscles some time to recover and complete the job properly over a longer duration of time.
2) Reciprocate - We all tend to use side of our body more than the other. Most of us are right handed will weed, rake, and plant using primarily our right arm. Be sure to use your left side! You may not be able to use it as long, but it's important. This give the muscles on the right side of our bodies a chance to recover, and it allows our brains to be aware of the left side of our bodies. Our brains are very efficient, when our bodies perform an exercise utilizing the right side, our brains will turn on those muscles and disallow them from turning off. Conversely, they will "ignore" the left side. Reminding your brain that you have two sides will help to keep your musculoskeletal system balanced.
3) Breathe - many times when we are performing a task, particularly one that's physically challenging, we hold our breath. Aside from doing horrible things to our blood pressure, this puts our musculoskeletal system in a bad position. It causes our lower backs to arch, diaphragms to drop and flatten, ribcage to tighten up, and shoulders, backs, and necks to become overextended to make up for our restricted thorax motion. Remember to breathe through the activity! If you can, remember to fully exhale, depress your ribcage, and hold that exhale for just a moment. This will allow the diaphragm to restore to its normal, domed position and improve the mechanics of your entire body. You don't have to breathe this way the entire 8 hours that you're gardening, but if you're experiencing some pain or performing a particularly challenging task, this tip will help you to stave off further dysfunction and pain.
4) Stop arching- No matter if we are standing, squatting, or kneeling. Our posture tends to degrade and we allow our super-strong low back extensors to compensate for our weak core and allow our backs to arch. No matter what position you are in, think of rounding your back or tucking your tailbone underneath. Coupled with a full exhale and depressed ribcage, your abdominals are now in a much better position to function and give your core the support it needs.
5) Reach - Whether we are placing flowers to be planted in the garden where we want them, spreading mulch, or pushing a lawnmower proper reaching is important. If done incorrectly, the shoulder blade is not positioned in the right spot on the thorax. This doesn't allow for a stable shoulder blade for our arm to work off of and will cause us to use our upper traps and necks to do the work - ouch! As you stretch your arm out or push against that lawnmower, think about reaching your arms forward and allow your upper back to round slightly. This allows the slightly rounded shoulder blade to sit on the thorax appropriately. When this happens, the shoulder blade is much more stable and the arm is situated in the joint so that the rotator cuff and other stabilizers can do their job.
If you want further clarification of these tips or are ready to start a custom-tailored program to completely alleviate your pain, contact Integrate 360 at Lesley@integrate360pt.com, Nancy@integrate360pt.com, or call us at 314-733-5000