With the Chelsea Flower Show in full bloom the world of gardening is full of excitement and wonder as the designers exhibit their creations. Gardeners can relate to this sense of cultivation and creativity as they work hard to illustrate their vision through their plants, flowers, grasses and other garden features.
Gardening is often physically demanding. Carrying, lifting, holding sustained positions and repeated motions form the bulk of the activities and of course this challenges the body. Much like the writer or film viewer, becoming lost in the moment is wonderful yet the trade off can be a painful back.
Back pain and low back pain are very common. Most of us will experience such pain at some point in our lives and in the vast majority of cases the pain eases after a few weeks and we return to our normal activities and movements. In some this does not happen and they continue to experience pain that impacts upon quality of life. These are usually the individual whom I see and they all have a story to tell about their pain. We are wise to listen as this narrative is key – see Oliver Sacks talking about narrative here.
Many will describe how gardening upsets their back pain yet they love to be outside crafting their environment. Much like the sportsman who wishes to return to the field of play, the gardener wishes to be on the lawn or busy in the shrubs. Again, like the sportsman, this needs preparation and a degree of fitness that must be developed with exercise and functional tasks (movement that is the same as you would use in the activity).
If you have back pain, it can be fine to spend time working in the garden in most cases. It is how you go about it that is important. How many people warm-up and cool-down when they garden? Few I would imagine. But why not? This prepares the body for the demands. Planning and pacing activities is also very important. Taking breaks and changing positions consistently and regularly helps to nourish the tissues and develop tolerance for physical activity. There are a range of other techniques that we can use so that gardeners can garden safely, confidently and productively.
**Please note that if you are unsure you should always seek the advice of your GP or health professional.