Wendy Elliott: Stretch before all activities, even gardening

Wendy Elliott
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Like other physiotherapists across the country, Jeff Knowles, who works for Annapolis Valley Health, can count on seeing a few sore backs and shoulder tendonitis each spring. That's because people don't always stretch before attacking their gardens each year, he says.

“People get out doing yard work and gardening and we see a lot of repetitive strain injuries.”

Most of us might do a spate of shovelling snow in the winter, but spring brings new activity and fresh aches.

After all, winter-ravaged gardens have been calling to be cleaned up, re-worked and replanted, but if it’s been six months since you've crouched over those flowerbeds, you don't want to overdo it pulling weeds and clearing last year’s leaves.

Many people head out to their yards and gardens, planning to jump right back into their gardening routine, and this is when aches, pain and injury often result, Knowles said.

That may be one good reason that Physiotherapy Month is set for May every year. Knowles tells me that older gardeners are dedicated and if they get a surprise injury, it can affect their state of mind.

Physiotherapists believe that one of the good sides of

gardening is that it takes a person through the full body range of movements - standing, squatting and bending. But as with any physical exercise, it's wise to ease into it.

I’m told breaking up the tasks of the day is a wise notion. Apparently, when you bend to do a job, you add 100 per cent more of a load to your back than if you're standing. Bending, combined with twisting, can add a whopping 600 per cent.

Using a garden cart or wheelbarrow rather than hefting heavy plants is also recommended. If you do lift heavy items, make sure your knees are bent so your back is straight, and avoid twisting or reaching. Move with that new shrub, keep it in front of you and close to your body.

Tools with telescopic or extended handles to eliminate strain are a good idea. Keep digging and cutting tools sharp to reduce the amount of effort required, buy ergonomic tools and use knee pads when working at ground level. Kneeling stools can also provide support when you stand up.

For those who enjoy summer recreation, like golf, Knowles recommends finding a form of physical activity that you can do in every season. Keep your whole body in motion.

According to the professionals, being active for a minimum of one hour each day helps to maintain mobility. This doesn't mean doing all of your activity at once, it means doing a total of 60 minutes each day. So plan activities that will get you moving for 10 minute periods throughout the day. 


Physiotherapists are mobility experts, so they want to teach people how to prevent injury and strain.

Gardening is an activity for all ages and stages of life, but to enjoy a pain-free gardening season, we all ought to start gradually, stop frequently and stretch often. Spreading heavy activities out over several days is smart advice. We can enjoy the physical benefits of gardening and beautify our yards, but it is also good advice to stop occasionally and smell the flowers.



Organizations: Annapolis Valley Health

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