In the third part of her series on health in the garden, pilates trainer Kate Lewis looks at staying safe in the garden and avoiding injuries.

Gardening might not be seen as a particularly dangerous activity, and yet it is the cause of tens of thousands of hospital admissions every year, pulled muscles and back pain. 

Although there are many potential ‘dangers’ in the garden – the humble flower pot rates as the second highest cause of gardening injuries in the UK – and back ache is a common complaint, there are many simple precautions we can take to reduce the risk of accident and injury.

Lifting

When moving heavier objects try to share the weight with someone else, or use a trolley or wheelbarrow. If you have to lift on your own follow these tips for safe lifting:

  • Keep your back straight and bend from your knees – your legs should take the strain.
  • Carry the load close to your body.
  • Don’t lift above shoulder height.
  • Avoid twisting when carrying a heavy object.

Digging

Digging is frequently referred to as ‘back-breaking’, and with good reason! Prevent back ache with good technique:

  • Use a regular and repetitive action with controlled movements.
  • Bend your knees and not your back.
  • Keep the shovel as close to you as possible.  
  • Shovel smaller and more manageable amounts.

Raking

Another common garden task that can easily cause back ache and muscle strain. When raking stand with one leg in front of the other, switch legs and hands regularly and keep the rake close to your body.

Kneeling

A lot of back strain is caused by bending down to do jobs. Instead, use knee pads or a kneeling pad. If kneeling is a problem use a chair if possible. Either way, keep your back straight and straighten up regularly. 

Clothing

Many gardening injuries can be avoided by better planning and forethought. Think about your clothing before starting your tasks:

  • Gloves will not only protect your hands from cuts and thorns – which can lead to infection – but also from bacteria and fungus in the soil, poisonous plants and insect bites.
  • Tuck in loose clothing. 
  • Wear safety clothing when operating machinery – goggles, hard hats, protective gloves and steel toe-capped boots.

Switch tasks often

It’s so easy to lose track of time when tackling chores in the garden. But spending too much time on any one task – especially if it is a repetitive motion like digging or raking – puts a lot of strain on the body as the same muscles are used over and over. Instead: 

  • Alternate activities from heavy to light tasks.
  • Rotate jobs every 15 minutes (set a timer if you
    need to).
  • Change your position regularly and take time to stretch. 

Use the right tool for the right job

Many gardening injuries are caused by not using the right tool for the right job. Make sure tools are kept in good condition.

Don’t forget

  • Never use sharp tools lying around.
  • Don’t use electrical equipment in wet weather.
  • Lock away weed killers and insecticides – especially if children are around.
  • Be aware of any plants in your garden that might be harmful to you, children or your pets.
  • Stay hydrated, especially during hot weather.
  • Check that your tetanus vaccination is up
    to date.
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