According to Physical Medicine specialist, Dr. David Wang, "Over 80% of people will have low back pain at some point during life, although most of them fortunately recover on their own. When it comes to gardening and back pain, your body may need a few weeks after the long winter to become accustomed again to the physical stresses of gardening, such as squatting, twisting, lifting and digging."
Here are some precautions to follow to decrease your risk of back pain when gardening:
- Begin slowly, and don’t try to do too much in one sitting. Split large gardening projects into a few short sessions to help build stamina.
- Think of gardening like other forms of physical activity, and warm up before you begin with 10-20 repetitions of gentle exercises like standing hip circles, toe touches, back bends, and leg lifts.
- Pay attention to the position of your body when lifting heavy objects. Keep the object close to your body and bend your knees so you can keep your back as vertical as possible, allowing you to lift with leg muscles rather than straining the back muscles.
- Make sure you take breaks and change your position every 15 minutes or so, especially if you are squatting, kneeling, or sitting in a twisted position.
- If back pain is becoming a consistent problem, consider making raised garden beds, which would help reduce the amount of bending required for maintenance.
As for sports, much of the same advice for limiting back pain also holds true:
- Remember to warm up properly, avoid over-exerting muscles, use proper equipment, and take regular breaks to rest your body.
- If your muscles are inflexible, it’s also critical to stretch after engaging in activity. Be sure to hold each stretch for 30 seconds to gradually improve your flexibility and reduce the chance of injury.
- It’s also worth considering finding a physical therapist or personal trainer for several weeks before starting the sports season. This would help ensure you are properly prepared and your body condition is healthy enough for sporting activities.
Though most instances of back pain get better on their own, there are some situations where a physician’s help is needed. These include pain that is continuously getting worse or lasts longer than three weeks, back pain accompanied by balance problems, or back pain with leg pain, numbness or weakness. If you do end up requiring medical treatment, it’s important to realize that not all back pain is the same, and it can actually be quite complex. Dr. Wang recommends, “Be sure to see a specialist who has knowledge about a wide range or diagnoses and treatments, both surgical and non-surgical, and who focuses on treating the whole person and not just the symptoms.”