Date: 1 May 2005
Originally published in: Healthy (UK)
Written by: Kim Wilde
Kim finds out that a little caution will go a long way, if you want to enjoy the garden in comfort and safety.
After the long winter, most gardeners relish the onset of spring, when they can really tackle the garden in earnest. But in their enthusiasm many gardeners will overdo it and thousands of them will seek treatment for aching backs, strained wrists and swollen knees.
We don’t think of gardening as exercise, yet every year more than 400,000 gardeners need medical attention after injuring themselves lifting or weeding for too long. Pulling up a stubborn shrub, for example, can cause a back injury that’s also common among front row rugby players. Problems arise when people launch into gardening after a winter of relative inactivity and fail to warm up, move properly or avoid heavy loads.
Several years ago, after having my daughter, Rose, I hurt myself recording the second series of my garden make-over programe, Garden Invaders. I was determined not to wimp out of the manual labour, since I figured people might expect a female 80s pop star to try and dodge lifting and digging – especially as I’d recently had a child. So I heaved and lifted wheelbarrows full of rubble up scaffolding planks into skips, in a desperate bid to get the job done and keep up with my team of much stronger (and younger) invaders! It turned out to be a big mistake as my body simply wasn’t ready for that kind of physical effort, and within a year I was suffering the painful repercussions of a bad back.
So before you start, consider whether you’re really up to the job of lifting that hefty contained, huge bag of compost or heavy wheelbarrow. I recently spotted a really nifty design from Allsop’s WheelEasy Lite – a wheelbarrow that drops flat to the ground, making it easier to roll or slide large, heavy items onto it. They also have a pot move, which has to be the most sensible gardening present you could ever boy for yourself (visit www.queenswood.co.uk).
If you already have stiff or aching joints, Thermoskin make great supports for knees, wrists and backs. They warm up, promoting pain relief as well as giving firm support (visit www.thermoskin.co.uk.
Garden safety in child’s play
You also need to keep a very close eye on children as it’s easy to become complacent in the relaxed atmosphere of our own homes and gardens. It is worth double checking obvious danger areas, as more than a million children are taken to hospital after accidents in the home and garden.
Treat water with the utmost caution as a child can drwon in as little as 5cm (2in). As well as ponds, containers around the garden can easily fill with water without you noticing, making them potentially lethal to a toddler. Even if your garden holds no danger, it is possible that your neighbour’s does – around 80 per cent of drowning accidents take place in someone else’s garden.
Check too, that garden tools are not left lying around and chemicals are placed well out of reach of tiny hands – sheds can look like rather splendid Wendy houses to children.
Summer barbequescan be an extremely dangerous fire hazard – it’s easy to inadvertently leave the hot coals unattended while you just nip inside to fetch the hamburgers. Glasses too, left lying around under chairs and propped up behind pots, could easily smash and the first you’d know about it might be a badly bleeding foot.
Of course, this shouldn’t send you fleeing back indoors to observe the spring with the windows and doors bolted shut, but enjoying the garden is all the more lovely when you know that everything is safe.
Tips for pain-free gardeners
Stretching: Do back exercises before and after gardening to mobilise and strengthen the spine.
Weeding and planting Gripping, twisting and pulling can inflame tendons. Stop to massage wrists and lower arms. Lock hands with palms facing out and stretch them over the head, behind the back and out in front. Sustained bending can cause muscle spasm in the lower back. Move close in or use a long-handled implement. Cushion the knees with pads. Take a break or change activity every 20 minutes.
Lifting Keep your back straight, bend your knees, look ahead and hug the load close to your body. Test the weight of something by lifting one corner. If it’s heavy, roll it or push it. Divide a heavy load and make several trips using a wheelbarrow or trolley.
Digging and shovelling Stand with feet shoulder-width apart for stability. Use a long-handled spade. Let your legs support you, not your back. Shovel small amounts.
Pulling up shrubs Crouch close to the plant and hold it firmly, feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your head up, bend your knees and straighten legs, keeping the back straight. Lean away from the object as you pull.
Sweeping, hoeing and hedging Stick to a forward and backwards action when sweeping and hoeing. Use small, controlled movements when trimming hedges; don’t over-reach.
Equipment Choose lightweight implements and think about your posture. When using a hover mower, for example, don’t swing from the waist; turn your whole body in line with the mower. Don’t overload wheelbarrows. If in doubt when starting petrol-powered equipment, ask for help.