Tips for Preventing Gardening Injuries

I love spring and can’t wait to get my hands in the soil to start gardening.  I love being outside and moving again after a winter siesta.  The healthy benefits of gardening are many with physical exercise being at the top of the list.  Whether gardening to grow food or flowers or landscape and maintain a yard, gardening offers low- to moderate-intensity exercise depending on the task according to the American Heart Association.  Digging, lifting, raking, mowing, pruning, and planting all produce whole-body movement increasing endurance, strength, balance and flexibility as well as burning calories. Getting out in the yard for just 30-45 minutes can burn up to 300 calories. Other benefits of gardening include lowering of cholesterol, blood pressure, and mortality, better hand function, higher bone density, and better psychological wellbeing.   

For the most part, gardening is a safe, beneficial activity but can lead to injury if precautions are not taken.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that ERs treat more than 400,000 injuries each year related to gardening.  Therefore, it is important to take note of garden safety to prevent injury.

Regardless of age, experts [1], [2], [3], in an AARP article, warn against jumping into gardening activities without preparing and warming up a little bit.  Rather, they recommend pre-gardening preparation to build strength, stamina, and aerobic power to prevent injury as well as talking to your doctor before beginning any new regiment.   The following exercises are recommended to strength garden muscles prior to gardening:

  1. Walk to warm up the muscles and build core strength.  Stand tall and concentrate on core muscles as you move to support the back.
  2. Sit-to-stand exercises (raising from a chair to stand position without using hands) help to strengthen the thigh muscles and the core muscles for stability and improve mobility.  Set a goal to see how many can be done in 30 seconds several times daily.
  3. Hamstring stretches help to keep the muscles loose and prevent lower back, knee, and foot pain.There are numerous ways to stretch hamstrings so it is best to find the stretching exercise that is personally best.
  4. Planks are great for building body strength as well as stretching and building strength in the arms, fingers and hands.  Planks can be done on the floor or against a wall.
  5. Practice balance by standing on one foot to build stability and prevent falling.

Once one has properly prepared for gardening, safety should always be first and foremost in the way we use our body and tools in the garden. For your comfort, safety, and the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind: 

  • warm up and stretch prior to activity;
  • begin with light movements;
  • stand tall occasionally to stretch the legs and roll the shoulders to relieve tension;
  • lift with one’s legs instead of back to prevent back injury;
  • avoid repetition; switch up activity every 15 minutes;
  • practice caution when raking and shoveling; learn safe use of rakes and shovels from the University of California Agricultural Resources [4] to prevent strain to the back, shoulders, and wrists;
  • kneel instead of bending; consider wearing knee pads or using a cushion;
  • apply sun screen with a SPF of 30 and ultraviolet A and B protection;
  • consume plenty of water while working to stay hydrated;
  • wear a hat or other protective clothing as needed; mask when using chemicals;
  • wear gloves to protect hands from blisters, chemicals, sharp tools, etc.;
  • use the correct tool for the job;
  • maintain your tools and use them properly.

Gardening not only provides physical activity but can also be a great source of happiness. You may garden to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or beautify your world. Whatever your reason, enjoy your gardening chores but keep your body fit and work safely to prevent injury.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Neighborhood Gardens

Using a vacant space in the backyard as a garden plot is by no means a new idea; in fact, it’s steeped in history. What if that space was to become a neighborhood pick-what-you-need garden? 

Last spring, my son-in-law (Guy) had just that idea. He enjoyed having a small garden and the fresh vegetables that came from it.  But as we know, sometimes even a small garden can produce more than a family can consume fresh.  Instead of simply sharing or tossing the excess, he reached out to his backyard cul-de-sac neighbors to see if they would like to participate in a neighborhood garden.  He volunteered to oversee the garden building and tending since none of his neighbors were familiar with gardening.  However, if everyone participated in the planting and care, anything that grew would be available to all for the picking.  The neighborhood enthusiastically accepted his idea and so the process began.

One neighbor with an oversized lot volunteered space where there was good drainage and plenty of sunshine.  Since this was a recently developed area with a lot of soil compaction, Guy brought in new soil and compost.  He designed the garden to have raised beds on three sides with a walk path in the middle for easy access to the raised beds.  The raised beds were covered with a weed barrier and a fence and gate were added for deer and rabbit protection. Everyone pitched in with the preparations as they were able.

Tomato, cucumber, pepper, and bean plants were decided upon and acquired.  On planting day, Guy invited all the neighborhood kids and showed them how to plant the various seedlings.  As spring became summer, the kids and their families watched the baby plants turn into maturing plants setting blossoms and fruit.  With the first sight of baby fruit, everyone waited impatiently for ripening and the first picking.

No one could have predicted the amazing effects of this garden.  The first of the fruits to be harvested was a cucumber picked by an adult who had never picked anything in his life; he was ecstatic and wanted to know if it could be made into dill pickles!  The children went into the garden for right-off-the-vine snacks; in fact, one little girl loved the garden so much that when she couldn’t be found any other place, she was in the garden.  The children also enjoyed searching for tomato worms and watching the moths and butterflies that visited the garden. Sometimes there was a bit of friendly competition of who was going to get the next ripe and ready tomato, pepper, cucumber or bean.  For others, it was the first time they had ever tasted a freshly picked vegetable.  In the end, even this small garden produced more than the neighborhood could use.  Everyone was grateful for the experience and is looking forward to another garden this year.

The comradery of this neighborhood is unique and special.  The same ‘loose’ organization might not work in another neighborhood; other neighborhoods may need or want a well-organized plan and established ground rules before they begin. When that becomes the case, neighborhoods or community groups should develop a garden plan, like a business develops a business plan, to address such issues as

  • How to pay for supplies?  Should there be a membership fee?  Who will handle finances?
  • Who will oversee or supervise?
  • Who are the workers and what are their tasks?   
  • What will be planted?
  • How will distribution of produce be handed?
  • Will fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides be used?  Will the garden be organic?
  • Liability?

Other considerations and tips on starting a neighborhood or community garden can be found using these resources:

Start It Up – Eat Greater Des Moines
Starting a Community Garden – American Community Gardening Association
How to Organize a Community Garden – North Carolina State Extension

Regardless of how big or small, the benefits from a shared garden are numerous.  In addition to providing fresh vegetables, a garden can also be a tool for promoting physical and emotional health, connecting with nature, teaching life skills, teamwork, neighborliness, and security.  Spring will be here soon.  If a neighborhood garden is a consideration, it is time to start planning now.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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