If You Get Back Pain After Gardening, Are You Doing Something Wrong?

Many of us see the warmer weather as a chance to get on top of our gardens that can get away on us during the colder months of the year. However, spending a few hours gardening can often result in back pain either later that day or during the next. This can happen whether you have a history of low back pain or not

When we experience back pain it is normal to ask the following questions:

  • Should I be doing this activity?
  • Will I harm my back if I keep going?
  • How can I stop the weeds from taking over my garden?

These questions can be answered by having an understanding of pain: what pain is bad, what pain is ok, and how to perform activities (like gardening) without causing back pain that interferes with your life.

There are generally two reasons for back pain. The first is if you put more pressure through your back than it is capable of handling, such as trying to unhitch a heavy trailer or pull a tree stump out of the ground. This is associated with an immediate and memorable onset of low back pain. One of those moments you never forget!

The second reason for developing low back pain is the more common. It occurs when you don’t put more weight through your back than it is capable of handling, but the weight you do put through it is unusual or unaccustomed. This often occurs at the start of spring when avid gardeners emerge from their winter cocoons, and spend a lot of time bending over pulling out weeds or planting new bulbs. Since gardening isn’t high on the priority list during the colder months, the muscles in the back lose the strength they gained during the active months of spring and summer. As a result you can get aches and pains across your lower back, or up your spine, as the muscles come to terms with the new exercise they are doing.

If you experience back pain after gardening, it then becomes a question of how much the pain is affecting your life.  If the answer is not at all, and you are only experiencing a little bit of stiffness, then you can carry on the good fight in your garden without changing anything. If stiffness and discomfort are affecting how you bend or the way you move, then it’s best to remain active but don’t throw yourself back into the garden until your muscular soreness improves to the point you’re no longer moving about like a half shut pocket knife!

This shouldn’t generally take more than three days. Then, upon your return to the garden, perform less total work in a day than the amount of time that had given you back pain. If you know you were sore after spending three hours in the garden last weekend, this weekend start with half that time. As your fitness and strength grows, you can gradually increase the time you spend in the garden each day.  One of our physiotherapists or exercise physiologists can also guide you through this.

Remaining physically active during winter gives you the best chance of delving back into ‘better homes and gardens’ during the warmer months without your back suffering. Being sedentary, or inactive, is one of the highest risk factors for back pain. Physiotas offers a range of services to help keep you active during the colder months, such as Pilates classes, exercise physiology (think expert personal trainers with science backgrounds), group classes and hydrotherapy.

The take home message is that if you get delayed back pain from gardening don’t worry you have harmed your back. You can be confident your pain is due to soreness, rather than injury. If your pain does linger for more than three days, then our physiotherapists can offer you further advice on how to manage it. Feel free to give us a call, or come in to chat with our friendly staff, if you have any more questions.

About the Author:

Zac Young is a Physiotherapist at Physiotas in Launceston.

Zac is currently in the final stages of a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy through La Trobe University.   As well as working at Physiotas, Zac is the State Strength and Conditioning Manager and Physiotherapist for the AFL Tasmanian Football Academy.

Zac’s main clinical interest is in the application of strength and conditioning to the rehabilitating athlete, whether that be at the elite level or the weekend warrior. Other areas of interest include chronic and acute low back pain, and shoulder pain.

Zac’s personal interests include football, strength training and riding horses.