Keep the spring in your step when you garden

Kusal Goonewardena
Kusal Goonewardena

Physiotherapist and founder of Elite Akademy Kusal Goonewardena gives intrepid gardeners tips on keeping their bodies pain-free as they work outdoors

Gardening is a wonderful past-time, but doing it wrong can have painful results, warns physiotherapist and founder of Elite Akademy Kusal Goonewardena.

The head of Sports Medicine at Melbourne University explains that when people garden, they tend to be in a static posture such as squatting or kneeling for long periods of time.

The most common garden complaints are a sore back, muscle pain, headache and tennis elbow. Sunburn too is a regular outcome of working in the outdoors as gardeners often forget to cover up.

Goonewardena says that like with any other form of exercising, you can injure yourself while gardening as well, so his advice is to listen to your body. “Watch out for the warning signs, such as stiffness,” says Goonewardena. “Take a break when your body stars to complain and do some stretches to loosen the affected muscles. Maintain a static posture only for 15 to 120 minutes. If you are weeding, stop for a few minutes every 15 or 20 minutes and do another activity in the garden. Or just stretch a bit, or head indoors for a some water. It’s good to keep hydrating like you would when you exercise,” he adds.

Another common complaint during gardening is headaches, because of the long periods spent bending. This goes in tandem with shoulder pains from being hunched over. Here too the answer is to take a break and sit upright or switch activities, says Goonewardena.

If you are in a day job that involves sitting, then high force activities in the garden like uprooting trees or using a chainsaw can lead to tennis elbow and tendinitis because of the pressure these high forces outs pressure on the hand, wrist, elbows and shoulders that the body may not be primed to absorb.

“In some cases, hitting something hard results in the forces reverberating through the body and this can cause whiplash,” says Goonewardena.

He recommends that hobby gardeners have a massage at least once during the week. Or take a relaxing warm bath to soothe the muscles and reduce swelling at the end of the day’s gardening.

If the pain persists though, it may be time to see a physiotherapist, he warns.


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