Gardening with a bad back.

Can I make it easier to work in my garden if I have a painful back? Yes these ideas will help make access to and working in the garden easier

Back pain can cause problems for gardeners, taking away the pleasure and benefits of gardening. Ignoring the condition when working in the garden, can actually make the pain worse.

Taking a few simple precautions like using the correct tools and changing your garden layout, can take the pain out of most gardening tasks and bring back the pleasure of gardening, providing exercise that can be beneficial to back pain sufferers. 

 

Making a few simple changes to the way you carry out gardening tasks can make all the difference to whether you enjoy or avoid gardening, weeding, sowing seeds, growing and reaping the harvest. 

Not only the fresh produce, but the feeling of well-being you get from being outside, away from the television doing something you enjoy. There's a bonus too, careful exercise can help improve bad backs.

Digging is painful is there anything I can do to make it easier?

Let's face it, digging is always going to be difficult with an existing back problem, but yes, there are a few things we can do to alleviate the problem.

 

The first is to accept that some of the problem is self-inflicted albeit without realising what we are doing, like our body alignment (posture) and repetitive stress injuries. As we get older it gets more difficult to correct these problems. I'm definitely not an expert on correct posture, but some things are fairly obvious; for example people who are are slightly round shouldered as apposed to those that walk tall and straight are more likely to suffer from neck and back problems in later life.

 

Digging the garden is a one-legged activity one foot on the spade with your knee and hip joints bent while your other leg will be straight and firmly planted on the ground holding your body stable and your back slightly twisted and stooped toward the digging leg. The use of one leg for one part of the task the other leg for the other part of the task and your back taking the strain over and over again results in some muscles strengthening while others weaken, but over the years this repeated action can also damage the joints.

 

There are however actions we can take to lessen the risk of damaging our joints through repetitive stress injuries and poor posture. 

  • Try switching the digging foot from row to row. Dig a section with your right foot on the spade, then dig the next bit with your left foot.
  • Try to avoid muscle and joint strain by using your body weight by leaning your weight toward the ground and using your body weight to push the fork or spade into the soil instead of pushing or thrusting the shovel into the ground.
  • To lift a spade full of soil out of the ground use your body weight by leaning back and using your foot to lever the spade full of earth out of the ground.
  • When moving the soil, don't twist your spine by throwing it over your shoulder, lifting and twisting at the same time will put strain on your back. Instead, turn your whole body around, not just your spine, and walk with the spade to where you want the soil.
  • Stop digging when your body tells you it has had enough for the day. little and often will get the digging done!
  • Check with your doctor if you haven't already done so before changing your routine.
Warming up for a few minutes by stretching before starting work will help loosen up and get blood flowing through your muscles, Just like the sub coming off the bench..

 

Correct posture when walking, lifting and bending over is important.

  • Bend at the knees.
  • Lean over from the hips.
  • keep your back straight when bending.  
  • Your doctor may recommend you wear a back brace for extra support.
  • Wearing the correct shoes that cushion your feet and provide support for your arches will help.
  • Use a wheel barrow to move heavy stuff.
 

Take breaks to rest and have a stretch.

Not staying in one position for too long, especially when leaning or bending down helps, so alter your position regularly as you dig, weed or plant. 

Using adapted gardening tools with the right size handles that are lightweight and avoiding using heavy watering cans lesson the strain on your back. More about adapted gardening tools on my page  tools for the disabled

Where possible use tools with long handles that reduce your need to stretch. Most tools can be extended by fitting specially designed extensions or telescopic arms.

Keep smaller tools in a holster on your belt to save bending down to pick them up.

Loppers and pruners with a ratchet mechanism and blades that are kept sharp help reduce the strain on your back.

You can have a look at a selection of  specially adopted gardening tools for gardening with a painful back here tools for the disabled.  

Bare patches encourage weeds to grow, mulching the surface of the soil with bark, compost from your compost heap or well rotted manure shuts out the weeds and helps to retain the soils moisture, saving on watering. Planting ground cover plants or laying a weed suppressant material and planting through it also helps keep borders weed free.

Raising flower and vegetable beds will reduce the need for bending, especially if they are raised to waist level. I have included a lot more information on my raised garden page.  Keeping the beds narrow reduces stretching and bending across to work. Even the most basic raised bed made from old car tyres can dramatically reduce back strain as you won't need to bend over your garden for long periods.

Lawns even small ones, are high maintenance  needing regular mowing during spring summer and autumn. Wildflower lawns need less maintenance and can be interesting and fun.

Steep steps can put a lot of strain on your back, consider adapting them to have more steps with lower rises or even a gently rising ramp. Bear in mind the more steps you build the further the steps will need to run. It's better to build the steps backwards into the border rather than forward, causing a trip hazard. If adapting the step isn't feasible adding handrails could help take the strain of your back. 

More about garden layout on my elderly garden design page.

A few more tips,that could help gardeners with a bad back.

No dig gardening is ideal for gardeners with bad backs, it's also better for the soil and can produce better results than the old fashioned double dig method. It takes a bit of hard work setting up, but if you have a painful back it really is well worth trying. All the information you or your helper will need is on my  gardening without digging page. 

Slow growing shrubs are easy to maintain, but if you are using easy to access raised beds try a few annuals and herbaceous perennials for interest and colour.

Use containers that are easy to reach for growing vegetables like courgettes, potatoes and lettuce. Try to group them in one spot as they will need more watering than border grown plants.

Reduce stretching by planting fruit trees grown on dwarf root-stock or trained along trellis to keep them low so you can pick the fruit at a comfortable height.

Weeding. Use ground cover plants to reduce weeding and add colour and variety.

Planting. Try to make your garden as accessible as you can,  bear in mind the stuff we have discussed on this and other pages and you can plant almost anything.  

 

Summary of Caring for your back in the garden tips. 

  • It's important to warm up before gardening, if it's cold outside wrap up warm. 
  • Avoid repetitive garden work by changing your position every now and then and taking regular breaks to avoid straining your back in your garden.
  • Garden layout is important for enjoyable gardening if you have a disability or bad back that makes bending difficult, This includes access, hard surfaces, raised beds, handrails and I have included measurements, materials and tips on the garden layout page
  • Avoid bare patches that encourage weeds to grow in your garden and use chipped bark or well rotted manure and compost to mulch the surface. This will greatly reduce the weeding needed in your garden. 
  • Raising flower and vegetable beds will reduce the need to bend down. Keeping flower and vegetable beds narrow will mean less stretching when you are weeding, planting and harvesting your fruit and vegetables. Raised beds
  • Using adapted tools with long handles, such as forks and trowels and tools with extensions means less stretching.  Adapting your own tools.
  • Pruning tools that have a ratchet system make cutting easier and saves putting pressure on the back. They are especially helpful in the garden if you have a weak grip or disability that makes squeezing painful.
  • Organise your garden and tools to be tidy. keep all cutting tools sharp. Keeping smaller gardening tools in a holster attached to your belt saves bending down to pick them up. 
  • Leave a watering hose stretched out to areas of your garden that need a lot of watering. But make sure it's tucked into the edge of pathways so you don't trip over it. And remember, a good soaking is better than a sprinkle over the surface and saves time watering every day. Only half fill heavy watering cans. 
  • Digging the garden. You don't need to dig the garden over every year. Once the garden has been dug over to remove weeds just add a good helping of manure or garden compost in the Autumn and sprinkle some more over the garden through the year as it becomes ready from  your compost heap, or consider gardening without digging.
.We design and build gardens for disabled and wheelchair access, for the elderly, wheelchair users and gardeners with a disability

This Wheeled gardening seat is a great gardening aid if you suffer from a bad back that makes bending difficult. It reduces the stooping and bending associated with weeding and planting etc.

The swivel tractor-type seat lets you sit and work up to 23" above the ground and roll around on four large 10" diameter pneumatic tires.The tray under the seat is handy to carry your gardeners tools along with you..

  • Adjustable-height,45cm – 54cm. 360ºswivel tractor seat
  • Durable under-seat tray
  • Heavy-duty, weather-resistant, powder coated steel frame
  • Big 10" pneumatic tires
  • 300 lb. capacity
  • Overall dimensions: 33" L x 17-1/2" W x 23" H
  • Maximum weight capacity of 10kg (17st 4lb).
  • Comes complete with instructions for Home assembl 
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