garden-1444235_640Summer in Portland is peak gardening season. While gardening and working outside can be wonderfully beneficial both physically and mentally, there are some important things to keep in mind to help you stay safe and prevent pain and injury.

Lifting Heavy Materials

One of the most common causes of injury when gardening is lifting heavy materials such as bags of dirt, fertilizer, or heavy rocks and stones. It’s important to use good lifting mechanics to prevent injury to the lower back. Avoid bending forward as this puts excess strain on the low back. Focus on bending the knees and lowering into a squat position, then hold the object close to your body and lift up through your legs. Never carry heavy objects far out in front of you or overhead. Avoid lifting and twisting through your trunk when carrying a heavy load. Focus instead on slow and deliberate movement while using your legs and core to perform the lift.

A wheelbarrow is a great tool for lifting heavy objects safely. Similar mechanics should be used when pushing the wheelbarrow. Avoid lifting the handles up with your back and instead use your legs to lift up from a slight squat position. Make sure you don’t move too quickly to avoid losing control of the wheelbarrow. If something is too heavy, break it up into smaller loads.

Planting and Weeding

Planting and weeding can involve being bent forward for prolonged periods of time, which can aggravate back pain. Avoid this by changing positions often, and use squat, half kneeling, and sitting positions. Vary which leg is forward and which arm you use. Try to avoid bending forward through your back and focus instead on bending through the hips while keeping your back straight. Most importantly, take frequent breaks for stretching, water, and to reapply sunscreen.

Garden Tools Can Help!

The garden tools you use can also help you prevent injury. Use tools with long handles, which help you avoid bending forward. Newer clippers take less pressure to use than older and heavier models. When watering, use hoses on reels to avoid having to pull the hose around, and avoid carrying heavy watering cans. When shoveling or raking, use your legs to do the work, not your back! Again, focus on deliberate movement and avoid excessive twisting through your back. Step towards where you are reaching with the rake or shovel rather than reaching too far.

If lifting and bending are too painful to do even with good form it doesn’t mean you have to stop gardening. Raised garden boxes and pots can allow you to plant and tend flowers and vegetables without having to bend or lift from the ground.

Gardening is a great way to stay active through the hot summer months. The important thing to remember is that back pain doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying it.