by Dr. Emily Smith, DC, DICCP
Spring can be a busy time for gardeners (and for those who take care of gardeners!). Spring marks the time of year when plants emerge from their winter slumber. It’s important to remember that our bodies too have been hibernating and need some tender loving care in order to enjoy spring without injury. Read on to discover a few simple exercises that can prepare your body for what is to come. (Please consult your doctor or health care professional before beginning this or any exercise routine.)
The #4 Stretch
This is a simple exercise that can be done while sitting or lying down. Place the left ankle on top of the right knee and if sitting, lean forward with a straight back. If you prefer to do this stretch while lying down, position yourself on your back on a flat surface. As above, place your left ankle on top of your right knee and grasp under your right knee and pull toward your chest. Repeat this on the other side. You will feel the stretch in the outer hip of whichever leg is on top, which is a common tight spot in those who sit a lot.
Chin Tuck Exercise
This is an exercise that can be done almost anywhere. First jut your chin forward as far as you can and then immediately pull the chin backward as far as you can and simply hold it in that position for as long as you can. The time may vary but will steadily increase as you practice. This helps to stretch the muscles that attach the head to cervical spine (sub-occipital muscles). Aggravation of this area usually occurs from keeping your head held in front of the rest of the body or from looking down (e.g., reading, putting together puzzles, working on the computer or phone, weeding, etc.). This posture can most commonly lead to headaches and neck/upper back pain. By simply tucking your chin whenever you are looking down or forward you can stabilize the cervical spine and prevent injury.
Arm Pulse Exercise
This is a great exercise to counteract the effect that gravity has on our upper body. Stand up and place outstretched arms by your sides. Open the shoulders by rotating palms outward and extend arms behind you. Now pulse arms backward, as if you are trying to touch the wall behind you. This will help to strengthen the muscles of the upper back, better align the shoulders to prevent injury and reduce/eliminate pain/numbness that may travel into one or both arms.
When beginning your spring gardening work, it’s also important to keep these points in mind:
• Stay hydrated. When your body is low on fluids your muscles will become tense and are more prone to injury (picture twisting a piece of jerky!) Though heat/environment may increase your need, typical fluid intake should include half of your body weight in ounces of water on a daily basis (e.g., if you weigh 100 pounds you should attempt to consume 50 ounces of water daily).
• The most dangerous activity for the low back is a bend/twist/lift. This activity (e.g., raking, unloading items from the trunk, weeding, etc.) can place the joints of the lumbar spine in a vulnerable position and cause excess pressure on the lumbar discs. It is always best to move your feet to rotate, rather than twisting your spine. With raking for instance, it is best to use short strokes while holding the rake close to your body and switch from side to side (as opposed to planting your feet and bending/twisting to one side to reach the rake as far as you can). The same goes for weeding (focus on the area in front of you rather than reaching off to the side).
• The body loves symmetry. It is difficult to always be symmetrical with gardening activities but do your best to switch sides and take turns from right to left. This will help to minimize injuries by building strength bilaterally and avoiding overuse of one side of the body.
• Utilize the proper tools and equipment. This can make the yard work not only more efficient but also more enjoyable. Stools, kneelers, or knee pads can help minimize stress and strain on the knee joints and allow you to spend more time in the garden.
• Take breaks frequently. Being in one position for more than thirty minutes can lead to muscle cramps and degrading posture. Move around the yard or garden and change up your activity whenever possible.
For those who love to garden but are unable due to available space, body limitations, etc., there are options! Check out https://es87578.towergarden.com/ to learn more about the Tower Garden, an aeroponic, vertical garden. The unit can be used outside or inside and requires no dirt and no weeding!
Dr. Emily Smith, of Smith and Prissel Chiropractic, has a specialty in Chiropractic Pediatrics but loves working with patients of any age.