I have lost count how many times I’ve been asked for remedies for low back pain. The pain can often be avoided of course by simply maintaining good posture and a reasonable amount of strength and stability.
As a Biomechanics Coach I spend much of my time treating the causes of lower back pain and associated problems so I thought it would be nice to share some of my knowledge with you in an attempt to help you avoid the pain.
Spring is here and the grass and weeds are growing at an alarming rate after their winter slumber. The temptation is to rush out to the shed or garage to fire up the lawn mower and make full use of the garden fork to make our gardens and allotments look nice and to be productive. However, this rush may not be such a good idea if you want to avoid back pain.
I’ve mentioned it many times of course “don’t over do the exercise”. It is much better for you to gradually build up your strength and endurance levels by performing short, low intensity exercise and gradually building it up over a period of weeks to avoid injury. Is gardening exercise? I’m inclined to say ‘yes’ so don’t try to have a marathon gardening session on the first day of spring without prior training.
After a few hours in the garden you may start to find muscles that have been neglected during the winter now starting to ache! How many of you I wonder, will be bent forward happily weeding the garden only to find that standing up again is decidedly uncomfortable? Think about your sustained position during these tasks. Kneeling and leaning forward will have a significant effect on your hamstrings (back of your thigh) and back from the crouching and reaching forward actions.
The hamstrings muscles are designed to bend your knee so bringing your heel up behind you with a bent knee is caused by a contraction of these muscles. However, they are also postural muscles, which are designed to help you stay erect. The flexion (leaning forward) of your spine should be effortless and pain free of course but if you perform and sustain one or both of these movements you are putting your body under considerable stress and the result will be at best, aching muscles or at worst, ‘pain’
Considering your posture is one of the key elements when trying to avoid back pain. Crouching on the ground for long periods, bending over a lawn mower or leaning back while tackling high hedges and trees will all take their toll.
If you have a garden it is going to be impossible to avoid taking advantage of the good weather so what can you do to avoid the pain and possible injury?
Without doing a proper Intrinsic Biomechanics assessment on you it will be unprofessional of me to start describing some of the specialist exercises. However, there are some general tips that I am happy to share with you:
If a pre-exercise warm up is useful to avoid injuries try performing short tasks in the garden first and gradually building their duration and intensity up.
Intersperse your gardening tasks. Try a little bit of mowing then a little bit of weeding before returning to the mowing.
If you have lots of tasks that require flexion (leaning forward) try interspersing them with opposing tasks that require extension (leaning back). Remember, ‘balance is key’
Gradually increase your time working in the garden instead of trying to get everything done in one day.
If you have been leaning forward (kneeling and weeding is a good example) you will find it hard to stand again. Your natural reaction will be to come up slowly and lean back to relieve the tension. This is exactly what you should do but if you can avoid that tension in the first place your back will be much happier.
Stretching your hamstring muscles will be a good idea. Try lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee towards your chest while at the same time straightening the leg. Clasp your hands on the back of your thigh or use a towel to support your leg if the first version is too difficult, then gently pull the straight leg closer toward your chest until you feel a mild stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
I’ll give some more back protection exercises in the weeks to come but if you have a problem please don’t hesitate to ask me for specific advice.