After suffering from chronic back pain for over 20 years, I still catch myself lifting, moving, or even bending, in ways that I shouldn’t be while working in the yard or nursery, but because I am conscious of how I am treating my back, I immediately adjust how I am working to keep from damaging it even more. Here are a few tips to help reduce the likelihood of damaging your back.
Purchase a wheelbarrow that has two tires. This eliminates the wobble associated with most wheelbarrows. The wobble makes you twist and torque your body to balance the load. These movements can strain and sprain back muscles, as well as shoulders and arms.
Use pre-emergents for weed control. Pre-emergents keep seeds from sprouting and in essence that means NO WEEDS. Preen is readily available from Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, and even local hardware stores. This will help eliminate the need to bend over and hand pick the weeds.
The Garden Claw. It breaks up the soil beautifully with a minimum of effort because of the way it’s shaped, and is small enough that you can work between individual plants. No bending to pull weeds! There are two models, one short handled, and one long handled, so be sure to purchase the one that feels right for you.
Mantis type tiller. These small tillers usually weigh in at around 20 pounds, but are just as effective as the larger tillers. Another benefit is how they are small enough to get between rows in a garden or between plants in a flower garden. A large heavy tiller will break up sod much quicker, but in my experience, it is still a tug of war. The smaller tillers take a little more time to break up the sod, but if you are doing a fairly small area, scoring it with a spade will greatly speed up the process.
The proper garden spade. I am not talking about those curved bladed shovels. I am talking about a straight bladed garden spade. As most gardeners do, I had about four of those curved spades around the house. Once I purchased my garden spade, I gave three away, and haven’t used the remaining one since. Never again will I purchase a curved spade for gardening.
Exercise Your Back. Keeping your back and abdominal muscles strong and flexible is one of the best ways to protect your back from injury. A regular routine of stretching and strengthening exercises will improve your back strength and flexibility.
Lift items correctly. I know you have heard this one a thousand times, but we all forget. Keep your feet apart and flat on the floor for good balance. Lift by bending at the knees, not at the waist. As you lift, hold the load close to your body. Tighten your stomach muscles and tuck your chin into your chest. By tightening and tucking your pelvis, you’ll help keep your back in alignment while you lift. Never twist while lifting. Instead, move one foot at a time in the direction you want to go, then turn with your leg muscles.
When raking leaves or other debris, don’t bend to pick it up unless you absolutely have to. A better alternative to using a rake to pick it up is a snow shovel. I personally have used one of those ergonomic shovels to pick up my leaves for years. If you are just moving the leaves from one part of your property to another (to the compost heap I hope!), use a tarp. Pile the leaves on it and drag it to where you will be leaving them.