Now that the weather is turning warmer, many people are eager to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.  For garden enthusiasts, there is nothing quite like nurturing plants and flowers, watching them grow, and eventually being rewarded with intoxicating scents and beautiful foliage.  As we age though, and especially for those with challenges such as vertigo and balance issues or arthritis, yard work and gardening activities can become quite challenging.  In some cases, even seemingly simple gardening activities can cause enough injury to sideline a person for weeks.  In this article, we will outline some tips on how to stay safe, while still taking advantage of all that Mother Nature offers in the summertime.

 

Pace Yourself

It’s easy to lose track of time when busy performing outside chores and gardeners tend to overexert themselves when the temperatures first begin to warm up.  Then the next morning the body sends a clear message that it was overworked the day before.  To prevent overworking muscles and joints, pace yourself and don’t expect to accomplish all your gardening tasks in one day or even a week.  Plan for one or two, 4-hour (maximum) sessions per week until you get your garden up to speed.  When gardening, plan to work on a task for no longer than an hour before taking a 15-minute break.  Wear a fitness tracker and set an alarm to let you know when your hour is up.  In addition, while performing your gardening activities, try to switch positions every few minutes along with switching the arm you are using for your task.

 

Watch Your Posture

If you find yourself hunched over a chore, straighten your shoulders or switch positions.  Always avoid bending from the waist with your knees locked.  If you need to reach for something on the ground, bend your knees and engage your core muscles to pick up the item as outlined in this short video.  If you have trouble kneeling, squatting or sitting, try using a short gardening stool to sit on or use a kneeling pad.  There are also stools with handles that make it easier to get back to a standing position.  If you have muscles that always seem prone to tightness, do some gentle stretches prior to going outside.  In addition, if your lower back is an issue, try wearing a back brace to provide support.  You can also wear an elbow, knee or ankle brace if these areas need a little support as well.

Garden at Your Level

Some individuals with vertigo, balance or other types of neurological issues may have a fear of falling with traditional gardening tasks that typically require a person to kneel down and stand on a frequent basis.  If you often feel too unsteady for these types of movements, consider bringing your gardening efforts up to a level that is comfortable for you.  Plant seeds in a pot or buy some potted plants and set them on a waist-high cart.  They will be much easier to water throughout the season and you will also deter pests from digging into them and destroying them.  You can also use an attractive Shepherds hook that is very easy to install and hang plants or bird feeders on it.  If you have a porch or deck, set a table out and fill it with your favorite plants and flowers.  You’ll find you can enjoy nurturing your flowers without all the muscle pain and sprains from constant kneeling and squatting.

 

Summary

With a little planning and a commitment to taking care of your body by following good posture techniques, along with stopping before overexerting yourself, you can still get outside this summer and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer.  If you would like more tips on how to avoid injury during the gardening season, please contact us at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787 or email us at:  cawleyptfrank@gmail.com.