Q.: I am about to begin my annual gardening activities. Are there recommendations for stretching that will help prepare me for this activity?
A: Many gardeners complain of stiffness after a day of gardening! If you take the time to perform selected stretches, you will find your muscles complaining far less after several hours of gardening.
Stretching is designed to lengthen a muscle and decrease the tightness that may occur after repetitive activities or exertion. Muscles are composed of tissues that are elastic and it is recommended that you stretch after a period of exercise or activity when the muscles are warmed up and more pliable. The shoulders, back, neck and knees are prime targets for muscle tightness and strain to be evident.
Here are a few stretching ideas to help you prepare for gardening activities:
For the Neck and Shoulders:
Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.
Bring your shoulder blades together in a “pinching” motion, then relax.
To Help Your Low Back:
Lie on your back. Bring a knee to your chest, and hold this position for a few moments. Gently grasp behind your knee and extend the knee to achieve as fully a straightened position. Hold this position for up to 20 seconds.
Lie on back. Keep knees bent and feet flat on floor. Keeping the knees together, move the knees to the left than move them to the right, gently rotating the lower spine.
To Help Your Knees:
Don’t kneel on both knees. Keep one foot on the ground to give your back more stability. When you do kneel, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure.
When gardening, be sure to change and alter your positions frequently to avoid stiffness or cramping.
Be sure to practice proper body mechanics! Bend at your knees when you grab something or pull a weed, bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to avoid straining your back.
Most importantly, don’t overdo it as you initially begin your gardening activities! Be mindful of how the body feels. If you experience an aching back or neck, slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
If despite your best efforts you experience pain or incur a strain injury, contact your physical therapist.