7 Tips for Safe Gardening

I can’t claim to have a green thumb. But what I can share are occupational therapy-based tips and tricks to help you stay safe while digging in with passion.

1 Start slowly. During the “hibernating” months, most of us find our activity levels decrease a lot and, whether we’re aware of it or not, this results in our joints and muscles stiffening. On your first day of gardening, stay on the safe side by taking things easy and giving your body time to “de-thaw.” The best way to do that is to stretch, especially focusing on your back and hips.

2 Lift properly. Don’t lift with your back. What that means is don’t keep your knees locked and bend at the hips. Instead, do bend your knees so that you’re closer to a sitting position and keep your back as upright as possible so that your legs are doing most of the work. The closer you are to the item you’re trying to lift, the less strain on your lower back and hips.

3 How to kneel. Avoid putting both knees on the ground. Instead, have one knee bent in front of you and the other bent on the ground, ideally with a pad under that knee. This position encourages you to keep your back more upright without adding an extra pull on your lower back. And frequently change which knee is on the ground.

4 Take a stretch break! Gardening is physically demanding—but sometimes your body won’t remind you of that until two or three days later. Minimize any future aches and pains by taking frequent breaks for stretching and rest.

5 Protect your skin. Usually a good day for gardening means that the sun is shining—and it’s actually strongest in the spring. A sun hat is important, as is drinking plenty of water and regularly stepping back inside the house.

6 Divide up the pie. If you have a large property, divide the work into sections and conquer your garden piece by piece. If you need to, put markers on a plant as pre-set reminders or stick
pegs in the earth to make sure you stick to your plan.

7 Listen to your body. If a part of you starts screaming with pain, put down the trowel and stop! Passions are meant to be performed pain-free.

Spring is a time when our bodies and our gardens come roaring back to life. But don’t let your new energy come at the cost of injury. Instead, care for your body like you do your garden and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Happy gardening!

Caroline Chenoweth, MScOT Reg (Ont) has practiced occupational therapy within long-term care homes, seniors-focused family health teams and acute-care hospitals.

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