The smell of Bengay and Icy Hot mixed with bug spray is a sure sign that the gardening season is in full swing. Yes, cases of “gardeners’ back” or “weeder’s wrist” or “pruner’s neck” are going around. Here’s how to avoid the hazards of gardening!
I’m not exaggerating. Repetitive motions like pruning and weeding can injure muscles, tendons and nerves, turning what is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby into a pain-filled nightmare. Even if you have never held a racket, you can end up with tennis elbow from carrying heavy buckets or pruning shrubs.
And this time of year, If the lines at the physical therapists’ waiting room are any indication, I am not alone. It’s not surprising since spring gardening follows months of relative inactivity for many of us. Fortunately, most of this is preventable.
First step. We are advised to warm up before digging in. Throwing yourself into the hobby without a warm up is as dangerous as an athlete going into competition without training.
Go for a brisk walk and do some yoga stretches for your hands, back, legs, and arms before you grab that shovel and start planting. Take frequent breaks while working in the garden.
Change your position often and vary your tasks to avoid straining the same muscle groups over and over.
Try not to overreach for things that are just out of range to lessen the chance of back strain.
Don’t twist especially when carrying something heavy.
Remember the mantra of “nose and toes”—both should be pointed in the same direction.
Lift correctly, using your legs and not your back. Once you have picked them up keep heavy loads close to your body.
Padded kneelers can help lessen the pressure on your knees.
Gloves can help prevent blisters and cuts. They are a must if you are pulling up poison ivy roots or pruning roses. Long handled tools are great for lessening back strain from working in a half-bent over position. There are hand tools with ergonomically modified handles and grips. Test them before you buy to make sure you get the tool that is most comfortable for you. Is your tetanus shot up to date? You should have a booster every 10 years.
Tools add a whole new dimension to the dangers lurking in the garden. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that over 400,000 emergency room visits each year are related to garden tool accidents. Be careful when using anything with a sharp blade! I have a friend who has cut herself badly with pruning shears several times, requiring stitches, because she was hurrying to get the job done and not paying attention.
Power tools are obviously dangerous and should be handled with respect. Eye protection is a must when using string trimmers/weed whackers, hedge trimmers, and leaf blowers. Stuff flies everywhere at a high rate of speed! Long pants are a wise choice too and don’t forget ear protection. This equipment, especially when gas-powered, is loud! Lawnmowers are especially dangerous.
Don’t mow when the kids are around.
Please don’t let them ride on the lawn tractor with you when you are mowing, no matter how much they beg. Wear sturdy shoes or boots when mowing, not your sneaks or flip-flops.
When you need to unclog the mower or make adjustments to other tools be sure to unplug electric equipment and disconnect the spark plug on gas-powered tools before you put your hands anywhere near the business end. Speaking of electric tools, plug them into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and don’t use them on wet grass or in wet conditions.
Be mindful and take care in the garden this year so your summer is not a bummer.