Gardening with Spinal Stenosis and Back Pain

garden seat for back painThe onset of warmer weather not only brings forth blooming flowers but also burgeoning back pain. Gardeners beware as a sudden burst of activity can easily lead to muscle aches and strains, especially if you have a condition such as spinal stenosis. How can you reduce your risk of pain and discomfort? Read on for five top tips for gardening without back pain.

1. Be Prepared.

Gardeners, like their gardens, often lie dormant during the colder months, only to emerge with a sudden flourish in Spring. This can mean that muscles that are not often in use are suddenly being asked to hold awkward poses for long stretches at a time and to support much more weight and stress than they are used to. Make sure that you don’t simply go from sitting on the couch reading gardening magazines to spending all day turning over the ground for a new flower bed. Work your way up to it by walking at least half an hour a day, doing some simple back stretches and strengthening exercises and taking things really slowly when you first get going again.

2. Rotate Your Jobs (not just your crops)

We all know that it is important to have a steady crop rotation when growing vegetables so as to avoid pests and diseases and ensure good amounts of nitrogen in the soil. The same goes for keeping your back healthy when gardening – a steady rotation of different jobs will help reduce your risk of overtaxing certain muscles. Dig over a new bed for a just ten minutes and then take a break to sort through your plant pots before returning to the weeding. That way you won’t be pushing and twisting and straining your back muscles with a four hour stint with the spade. Spring is a time when there are plenty of gardening jobs to do so make yourself a list and, if you’re that way inclined, a roster and you can easily break up those more manual tasks into smaller sessions between less physically demanding work. Also, remember when digging to always keep the spade in front of you so as not to twist, that way you’re much less likely to hurt your back.

3. Stretch Before Digging!

You can easily burn off hundreds of calories when gardening so it pays to see it not just as a hobby but as real exercise. As with circuit training in a gym, it is important to properly warm up and warm down so make sure to do some gentle stretching and start off slowly when gardening. Taking a short walk and doing some targeted stretches for the back, shoulders, arms and neck are ideal. Start more demanding tasks slowly, perhaps only filling a garden trug a quarter of the way up at first, and then progressing to heavier loads as your muscles get accustomed to the work. Try weeding for five minutes, taking a break and then weeding for ten minutes – treat your garden as a circuit training opportunity with a weeding station, a pot-washing station, seed-sowing corner and so on. This also means that you should pay attention to hydration and nourishment, just as you would if you had gone to the gym for four hours in intense heat!

4. Create a Back-Friendly Garden

Those with severe spinal stenosis and back pain may find it next to impossible to garden in the usual ways so it helps to get creative and make use of containers, raised beds and greenhouse space to aid enjoyment and reduce pain. Many companies make raised beds that can be at waist height or even higher, and it is possible to create a hanging garden using some imagination and carpentry skills. That way you can avoid having to bend down, kneel down, and twist and turn by having everything at an easily accessible height. Back-friendly gardens also incorporate rails down stairs, or ramps rather than stairs, and ensure that surfaces are not slippy by being covered in moss. Getting rid of grass and replacing paths with wood chips can also help as this removes any necessity to keep mowing the lawn with that heavy hand mower every couple of weeks.

5. Get Tooled Up!

Clever gardeners with back pain make sure not to blame their tools by using innovative back-friendly devices that cut out the need to bend and twist to excess. Long-handled weeders, aerators and shears can all help you to avoid having to bend low to the ground. Garden seats that are lightweight and movable are perfect for taking a little break when necessary, such as a back-saving, adjustable garden rocker, and having a garden trolley can mean that you can move heavy amounts of soil around, or potted plants, without having to steer an unwieldy wheelbarrow with a mind of its own. Whatever your particular needs in the garden there is likely to be a way to minimize back strain. In some cases, this might involve a doting spouse, a generous friend or even the neighborhood kids looking for some pocket money for simple jobs.

Gardening with spinal stenosis is possible and it doesn’t have to lead to extreme back pain: Get prepared, choose your tools wisely, set your garden up to be back pain free and remember to stretch and warm up before digging over those rows of potatoes.

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