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Avoiding Gardening Injuries This Spring - Pain Control
As the weather continues to tease us that Spring is on its way, people will be dusting off their trowels and reaching for their gardening gloves. Be warned though, do proceed with caution.
By: Martin Roche
Would you run a marathon without adequate training, kit and preparation?
With a bit of thought and planning, some common gardening injuries can be avoided.
As with any sporting event, a good warm up is crucial to prepare your body for the task ahead. Build yourself up gradually by brisk walking a few laps of your garden, surveying the scene and assessing the challenges you face whilst at the same time raising your pulse and body temperature.
Perform some gentle mobilisations:
Ensure you have the right equipment for the job. Use long handled tools to avoid excessive bending; use smaller spades to limit the amount of soil you shift in one go; use a wheelbarrow instead of carrying heavy loads; use a ladder to avoid over reaching; use a cushion when kneeling and check all blades are sharpened to enable branches to be cut on the first attempt.
Assessment of task:
Decide on what you wish to achieve in your gardening session, and break it down into manageable chunks. Consider your current fitness level and set yourself realistic goals.
Maintain good posture throughout the day. Squat down, bending at the knees, keeping your back straight; kneel whilst planting or weeding, don’t just bend at your back; keep loads or spades close to your body and avoid twisting; if lifting, face the direction of the load and move your feet to turn, to again avoid twisting; when using a hover mower, push it forwards, don’t twist it side to side; avoid reaching away from body or up high. Perform slow deliberate movements and don’t jerk.
Set a timer to tell you when to have a break, or you may lose track of time and just keep going.
Have a gentle walk round after you’ve finished whilst admiring your handy work. Do some gentle stretches to reduce muscle tightness in the next few days.
Back injury – Simple Lower Back Pain
What is the injury?
People get backache or Lower Back Pain for a number of reasons...often never known for sure.
It may simply be a matter of the unaccustomed muscles having been overused during the gardening stint and thus producing post-exercise discomfort or “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” (DOMS).
The vertebrae (or bones of the spine) have fluid filled discs between them to absorb shock. Strong ligaments and small joints (facet joints) between each vertebra protect these discs from damage.
Prolonged or repeated forward bending (flexion) puts these discs at risk, can inflame the facet joints or ligaments and can cause the muscles to go into protective spasm, all producing pain for the gardener.
Alternatively, asymmetrical movements or jarring during such activities as digging or weeding can cause the pelvic joints (sacro-iliac joints) to become abnormally rotated. This can in turn cause muscle spasm and pain in the buttocks or lower back region and can compress the sciatic nerve and ultimately produce pain or numbness down the leg.
Once mobility is regained, the muscles around your middle or “core” should be re-educated with “bracing” exercises, not sit ups. Sit ups will only put excessive pressure through your spine and will not work the muscles at the sides and back of your spine, thus leaving the spine potentially unstable.
“Bracing” involves lying on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Without any movement of your spine, tense or “brace” your core muscles at the front, sides and back of your spine as if you are laughing, or as if someone was about to punch you in the stomach!
Try and maintain this brace and different intensities and for different lengths of time, but don’t forget to breathe!
Knee Injury – Osteo-arthritis
What is the injury?
The knee joint comprises two main surfaces, the top of the shin bone (tibia) and the bottom of the thigh bone (femur). Following a history of trauma to the knee or excessive loading over the years, the joint surfaces can become degenerate or roughened, and the layers of cartilage protecting them and providing friction free movement can become thinned, thus producing pain and stiffness in the knee.
Osteoarthritis is more common in the over 50s than under, and can present as increasing pain with physical activity, and prolonged stiffness afterwards. You may notice some swelling and you may not be able to bend and straighten your knee as much as you used to.
How is it treated?
Initially if your knee has flared up you will need to rest it, ice it and use a compression brace to reduce any swelling and give some support to the joint. Follow the R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) principles for acute injury or use the Cold Compression Therapy product. You could speak to your GP or pharmacist about pain relief or anti-inflammatory medication.
Once the acute flare up has settled, appropriate gentle exercise is important to maintain maximum range of movement and to strengthen the muscles around the hip and knee to support the joint and minimise compression of the damaged joint surfaces.
Prevention of shoulder injuries
Choose suitable tools when pruning. Do not try and cut branches that are too wide as the strain will be too great on your forearm muscles. Limit the amount of time you are doing one particular movement. Mix up the mowing or pruning with some sweeping or digging to give your forearms a rest. Ensure you maintain good posture when gardening and try and use your whole body for tasks, not just relying on the small muscles in your forearm. Stretch your muscles out afterwards to maintain their length.
To stretch out your forearm muscles, have your arm down by your side with your elbow straight. Bend your wrist up so your palm is facing the ceiling and rotate your hand out so your fingers are pointing out to the side (imagine you were taking a tip!). You should feel the stretch on the back of your forearm.
To mobilise the nerves, do the same movement and gently push your shoulder down to the floor until you feel a stretch. Then raise your shoulder gently up and down x 12. Repeat x2. ENSURE THIS CAUSES NO PAIN OR TINGLING. IF IT DOES, THEN YOU ARE STRETCHING TOO FAR.
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Pain control is run by professionals who are qualified in understanding pain management and injury. We provide pain relief products including foot support and comfort, body supports and braces and a whole range of other items.