Spring is here! How to garden & clean without ending up on your back.

It’s that time of the year again.  With spring upon us we become enthusiastic and spend hours in the garden, or start cleaning our house from top to toe.  But all too often this sudden burst of activity causes back pain, or soreness in our body.  Is it possible to do these tasks without needing a week to recover, or a visit to your favourite physio?

YES!!

Mostly it’s about moderation and breakdown of activities, so you’re not in one position for too long! Sounds easy right?  Well, yes it is.  That is until you start weeding or cleaning and think ‘wow it’s looking great, I will just do a little bit more’.  This is problem number one.

So what should you do instead?

Decide how long you plan to garden for and the jobs you would like to accomplish in that time. Then break it up and do each job for a shorter amount of time.  This way you can change your posture and avoid that dreaded back pain.

For example, weed for 15 minutes, then prune the bushes that have become overgrown, then pick up the rubbish and pop it in the bin.  Then do some more weeding, and then maybe some watering.  This way your back will be bent for a bit, but then be upright for a while before you bend over again.  This method is much kinder to your whole body!

Or if you decide to spring clean, wash a few windows before tidying a cupboard. Then do some dusting or vacuuming before washing a few more windows.  It’s variety of postures, and limitation of time spent doing these activities, that helps avoid pain

Problem number two is the way people bend to weed or work down low.  Instead of squatting or kneeling, they bend their back instead. Some bending is fine, but if you can remember to use your legs, and squat or kneel, there will be less strain on your back.  This way is also kinder on the back of your legs (or hamstring muscles), so you can walk the next day instead of being sore from too much bending!  Avoid sustained bending of your back, and use your legs to help avoid pain.

Problem number three is that we often lift things that are too heavy or awkward by ourselves. I know this can be difficult if you live alone, and still like or need to do these activities. But if possible save the heavier tasks until you can get help. Or you could use a trolley or wheelbarrow so you’re not doing all the hard work.  Remember the golden rule when lifting is to get your shirt dirty, so hold the load close to you!

Other helpful tips are to bend your knees rather than your back when you can, breathe normally and try not to twist while you lift. Instead lead with your feet and follow their direction! Moving a heavy wheelie bin can be dangerous too, so make sure you use your body weight rather than your arms to help bring it back onto its wheels.  Don’t lift or carry too heavy an object to avoid pain.

Problem number four is when we hold an awkward posture for too long.  An example of this is when you look up, or have your neck in an unusual position, to clean a blind or high windowsill.  Try not to do these activities for too long.  As with problem one, break up the activities so you are in different postures regularly. Avoid awkward postures to help avoid pain

Some other helpful tips include:

  1. Extending your back regularly. Place your hands on your hips and arch backwards, then stand up straight again (do this 3-4 times without going into pain and do as often as possible, particularly when you have been working in a forward bend position).
  2. Being as fit and healthy as you can be at all times, but particularly before commencing strenuous activities such as gardening or spring-cleaning.
  3. Lying on your back (be comfortable – you might need to have your knees bent to begin with and then gradually straighten them out) when you’ve finished for 5-10 minutes to recover! This will help your back realign and relax after unusual activity.

I hope you have found these snippets of advice useful. And I wish you all happy gardening and spring-cleaning this year.  However, if you still end up with pain from these activities then make sure you book into see one of our friendly physiotherapists as soon as you can … so you can be back in the garden or cleaning more windows in no time!

About the Author:

Lisel Pearson is a Physiotherapist at Physiotas on the North West Coast.

Lisel graduated from the University of Queensland in 1992 with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy. She has been working at Physiotas since 1994 when the practice started. Lisel currently facilitates our Clinical Pilates groups at our Shearwater clinic on a Tuesday. She aims to make these groups effective and fun for those attending.

Lisel spends the rest of her week being a mum to her four children and enjoys cooking, reading, gardening, walking along the beach, travelling with her family and spending time with friends.