As spring returns, with sunny days and bursts of color springing to life all around, many are drawn to stretch their legs and enjoy the outdoors once again.In particular, many are inspired to nurture their gardens, tidy their lawns, and plant in their pots. While gardening is an enjoyable and rewarding experience, it is also a sometimes taxing physical activity. Therefore, just as in other physical activities,such as sports, it is important to prepare the body for gardening and to be conscious of proper technique in order to prevent unnecessary injury.
The best way to prevent injury is to stretch prior to beginning garden tasks and again after the work is done. This prepares muscles for physical stress by lengthening them, making them more agile, and increasing blood flow throughout the body, and can help alleviate stiffness afterwards by keeping muscles from tightening up. Key muscles used in gardening are found in the back, upper legs,shoulders, and arms. To warm-up these muscles, simply take a few minutes to do the following stretches:
While sitting, prop one foot on a chair or stool in front of you and lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh, the hamstring muscle. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat this stretch on each leg at least two times.While standing, and balancing yourself against a chair if needed, grab the front of your ankle from behind and pull the heel toward your buttocks. This will stretch the front of your thigh, or quadriceps. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds, and repeat on each leg two times.
While standing, raise hands above your head with your fingers interlocked and lean to each side for 10 seconds. Repeat this stretch three times on each side.Wrap your arms around your waist, as if you are giving yourself a hug, and rotate to one side as far as you can without discomfort. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and repeat on each side three times.
Use these stretches to relax your muscles after your work is complete as well.Remember to continue breathing in and out rhythmically as you stretch to keep the flow of oxygen through your body. Do not bounce or jerk your body, and always stretch only as far as you can without pain. And remember, the time required to complete this series of stretches is minimal, especially when considering the inconvenience and pain an injury can cause.
While gardening, it is important to remain aware of your body movement and posture to further prevent injury. Kneel, for example, rather than bending when reaching in the garden. Keep your muscles and body balanced by alternating your stance and movements frequently. In other words, try not to sit in one position doing a repetitive motion for a long period of time. When lifting equipment or plants, or when shoveling, be sure to bend at the knees, not the back, and use your leg and arm muscles to do the work, not the back muscles. When mowing the lawn, use your weight to push the mower; don’t stretch the mower far out in front of you. Take frequent breaks to relieve the strain on muscles, and when possible, use ergonomically correct tools.
If you do feel muscle aches and pains after garden work, and maybe did not complete the warm-up and cool-down stretches, you can apply a cold pack to the area for the first 48 hours or apply a heat pack after 48 hours. If discomfort persists,you may want to consider chiropractic care.By all means, enjoy the weather and the burst of energy that spring can bring! Just remember to give your body the same nurturing attention you give your garden.
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