At this time of the year, our Kernow Chiropractic Clinic (Truro) and Newquay Chiropractic Clinics start to see the first cases of gardening related lower back pain. Will the garden plants be a challenge this year and reflect their greater resilience than your lower back has to offer at the end of winter?
Lower back pain can become quite serious when ligaments are pulled and the vertebral bones in the spine distort and take up an abnormal position in your back. Often patients say this feels like their back is going to ‘snap at any minute’ as if the elastic tolerance has been stretched to its maximum and is about to tear. Actually, this isn’t such a bad analogy as misaligned vertebrae do stress ligament and muscle tissue when they are severely misaligned, resulting in fragile weight bearing in that area of the back, along with muscle spasm and sometimes change of posture. Have you noticed your belly button’s aim is less than straight? Are you stiff?
1. Check your back yourselves:
a. Do you have lower back pain when bending forwards or backwards?
b. Can you cross your legs when sitting with a foot on a knee and then lean forward without pain? How about using the same position but rather than lean forwards, pull your crossed knee up in an arc with your opposing hand?
c. Do you have low back pain during or after gardening?
2. Should the plant win? Its not a personal challenge if you haven’t got enough oomph to get that stubborn plant out. After a Palm died in my garden, I attached a rope to a tow hook on my car to pull out the small left-over stump. Take your time and think smart so you don’t strain yourself.
3. Don’t bend in the garden after sitting down for a while. It’s a common mistake to use bent postures after a nice relaxing cup of tea or having something to eat. Consider upright work first for more than 10 minutes before undertaking tasks where you must bend. The discs of the spine don’t tolerate the pressure of bending after they’ve been compressed from sitting.
4. Consider separating out the amount of time you spend in any one posture. Whether its gardening, ironing, working at a desk, or any spine-squashing task. Regardless of whether that task creates pain or not, getting mobile every half hour, even if it’s for a few minutes, or do the same task but in a different posture – it all helps. E.g. If you’ve been sitting for half an hour in one position, try doing the same task but whilst standing for 5 minutes.
5. How long is too long? Think of gardening like an exercise. You wouldn’t go straight back to your old regime starting off where you left it the last time you were at peak fitness for your age? So start small and garden for a short time first. If that’s ok then do the same time again the next day. Remember pain at the end of the day is a bad sign, indicating you’ve gone too far. So is pain the next morning. Take the next day off otherwise it can be a recipe for disaster. Dysfunction one day leads to more severe dysfunction the next. That’s when things jam or tear. Heat heals.
6. Lift by bending your legs, not by using your back. The same goes for gardening posture, i.e. don’t work on the ground with your legs straight and remember to bend from your back. World heavyweight lifters have a posture where their bottoms stick out backwards and their spine extends or cups backward rather than flexes or bends forwards. As they lift the maximum weights their body can tolerate, they know exactly how to lift powerfully but with minimum risk. So copy their strategy and lift like a pro.
7. Here’s an unusual one for you! Negative thoughts while being aggressive to a stubborn plant can predispose your body to excessive tightness, even before you pull on that Amazonian beast growing in your veggie patch. Tightness before action is a recipe for strain. Don’t get me wrong, the garden is a good place to express yourself when alone if issues of the day play on your mind. However, if it’s a big task, keep all your thoughts on the task at hand. Otherwise that negative thought (or person!) will end up having a negative effect on your back!
8. Try the stretches in paragraph 1c, where you sit with your legs crossed with a foot on one knee. If you feel tightness in your bottom when leaning forward, stay there for 30 seconds on each side. Try the second position using the same starting position, but instead of leaning forward, lift the upper knee with the opposite hand in an arc. So, if you are sitting with your right foot on your left knee, lift the right knee (the crossed one) with the left hand, pulling across to the left, while turning your body to the right. So its knee to left, twist to right. The more the tension there is, the more often you should do this per day.
9. Stretches help us get out of trouble, but they won’t keep us from getting into trouble, so don’t forget to strengthen the spine. Pilates is great for core strength. We can show you a 4 minute programme or send you a copy of our ‘4 core exercises’ for you to try at home. All advice from our clinics is free so you can call or come in at no charge. You may even enjoy watching us on the floor, demonstrating them!
10. Treat your spine with chiropractic! I felt like a car salesman during my first few years in Cornwall because few knew about how to look after their spines using manipulation, as performed by chiropractors and osteopaths. Thankfully, now my clinics are large enough to stimulate their own referrals, and this reflects in the 80% of new patients we have are referred from current patients. A BIG thankyou to all those talking converted with healthier spines!!