Oh, my aching back! If I had known about the techniques below when I was a young, “macho” landscaper, I would now have a stronger, less painful body. These tips will help you avoid painful injury while doing your landscaping and garden work. With proper work technique, posture and attitude, landscape and garden work can be very invigorating to both the body and soul.
Avoid Painful Injury with good attitude!
Yes, attitude *does* play a part…leave the pressures of work and other daily responsibilities out of the garden. This will help release muscle tension. To further relax muscles and prepare them for work, do some gentle stretching to loosen leg, back, shoulder and arm muscles and avoid pain and injury. Never be in a hurry to “get the job done”…for several reasons, haste makes waste.
Avoid Painful Injury with good tools!
Using properly sized, well built tools is critical…one of the most common mistakes I see is using a rake with too short of a handle. This requires bending too much – raking should be accomplished in a mostly upright position. Yes, you must bend some at the waist and rock back and forth, but the more vertical you are, the easier it will be on your back and the more likely you will be to avoid painful injury.
The large finish rakes, often made of aluminum or magnesium, usually have sufficiently long handles. But the steel garden rakes sold at the local hardware outlet are often sized for children! If you have more than just a few square feet of raking to do, invest in a quality tool. Shovels also should have a sufficiently long handle.
When using a shovel to move large quantities of material, position your body and your work so you don’t have to turn or twist. For example, if you’re shoveling topsoil into a wheelbarrow, set the wheelbarrow facing your target (where the soil will eventually end up), and in a position relative to the pile that allows you to scoop, lift and dump without twisting. One of the worst back injuries I suffered occurred when I was spreading very light, fluffy compost over a lawn area… the weight was minimal, but the repeated twisting did me in.
Avoid Painful Injury by using your body wisely
Perhaps the most important technique you should work on is becoming ambidextrous. I normally rake with my left foot forward, with my right hand near the top of the rake handle – I believe this is common for right-handers. It will feel extremely awkward at first, but learn to rake with your right foot forward (or vice-versa if you’re left handed). The awkwardness will lessen considerably after awhile, and you’ll be working your muscles in a different way, helping to strengthen them and avoid painful injury. Alternate your stance and hand positions at regular intervals.
It was harder for me to learn to shovel with the other foot, but I finally got it. I believe that this technique will allow me to keep active in the garden for many years to come.
Work smarter, not harder
Landscaping work usually involves a fair amount of lifting…be sure to bend your knees and lift with your legs. Be careful not to twist with a heavy load. Don’t be shy about asking for help with lifting – believe me, a “macho’ landscaper is often an injured landscaper.
And don’t forget common sense. When you get tired, take a break…if you are sore, your body is telling you to take it easy to avoid painful injury to your body. If you’re not in a hurry to finish the job, your project will be more enjoyable and your muscles will slowly, naturally gain strength.
By planning out your projects in advance, using the techniques above and relying on quality, well designed tools, your landscape work will help you become stronger, healthier and happier and avoid painful injury.
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About Dan Eskelson
Dan has had his hands in the soil for most of his adult life as a gardener, landscaping contractor, golf course superintendent and landscape designer. When the ground freezes, he builds websites, produces video and plays the hammered dulcimer. Full bio here.