Archive for September, 2013

Gardening Safety

Spring has sprung and it’s the time of year where the masses head to their gardens.  Most of us perceive gardening to be a relatively gentle activity.  However danger may lurk behind every bush and in every bed.

The reality is that at the first sight of blossom most of us get a rush of blood to the head.  We get into our gardens like there is no tomorrow.  Many of us suffer as a consequence.

A & E Clinics, Doctors and Physiotherapy rooms are full of these weekend warriors.

More often than not, it’s a case of too much too soon.  We spend the winter in our physical cocoon only to roar into a full day of heavy labour in the garden come spring.

Back injuries occur with prolonged stooping, bending and lifting.  Shoulder strains from over reaching and pulling stubborn weeds.  Tendonitis, tennis & golfers elbow from overuse on the secateurs.  The list is never ending.  There are a number of simple strategies that can not only reduce the risk of injury but make the job easier and more enjoyable.

Pre Season Training

  • Prepare these muscles and joints prior to the spring clean up.  A simple aerobic, walking and light resistance programme started a month before spring will help condition the muscles to the work ahead.
  • Warm up and stretch prior to picking up the tools.  Gardening is not unlike other forms of exercise, a simple 3-4 minute warm up (especially on cold days) and stretch helps prepare the muscles and joints for activity.


  • Plan to spread the load over a few sessions or days or take regular breaks from the heavier work to carry out lighter work.
  • Avoid high repetition for prolonged periods.  Pruning is the classic example, with many a gardener experiencing tendonitis from a few hours on the hand secateurs.
  • Plan regular breaks from the heavier work to hydrate or just step back and contemplate the work done to date.


  • Garden tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Pick a tool with a handgrip that fits your hand.
  • Long handled tools require less trunk bending reducing the risk to your low back.
  • When in doubt use the loppers over the secateurs.
  • Wheelbarrows are a fantastic tool but remember you don’t have to fill it to overflowing.

Raised Beds & Soil Structure

  • Raised beds are a wonderful option for reducing the need to bend, lowering one risk of back injury.
  • Regular mulching of the soil allows for reduced weed growth and easier pulling of weeds.
  • Regular soil conditioning, especially for clay based soils, helps to loosen the soil structure making for easier digging and weed pulling.


  • It is pretty hard to beat a long handled hoe for removing weeds.  Most weeds are easily lifted by scraping the top 1-2 inches minimising the need to break up the deeper soil.
  • Avoid jerking to pull weeds especially those long grasses with deeper root structure.
  • Avoid constant gripping, overpowering the grip and end range joint positions, especially at the wrist.


  • Reduce the load and make a few more trips.
  • Plan the lift and lift to the plan.  Most lifting injuries occur from poor planning.
  • Bend at the hips not the low back.  This is the simple reason weight lifters rarely have problems with their backs.
  • Lift with a wide, stable base, keep the spine straight and tighten the abdominal during the lift.
  • Before and after lifting arch backwards 3-5 times.

Safe gardening.

Mike Stewart is a Physiotherapist at the Oamaru Physiotherapy Clinic.  He has Post Graduate qualifications in Manipulative Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine and is a registered Physiotherapy Acupuncturist

Source:  Oamaru Physiotherapy Clinic written by Mike Stewart and Michelle Sintmaartensdyk


Dealing With Overuse Injuries

Gradual Process Injuries

Gradual process injuries are those which occur over time.  They may occur over a week or even over a year.  They are sometimes called Occupational Overuse Syndrome [OOS] and earlier were called RSI.  However these terms do not really describe the injury.

The symptoms or what you feel vary from person to person.  Pain may be felt in one part of the body one day and in another the next.  Tingling and numbness may also be felt.  Stiffness is another symptom.

How do they occur?

They can occur from muscles and joints being held in one position over a period of time or tight muscles which over time eventually pull on tendons.  For example, holding the neck in one position while at work is enough to put tension on the structures supporting the neck and thus cause pain.  Running without stretching afterwards will cause the calf muscles to tighten over time, causing tension on the achilles tendons and eventually pain.

Constant tension on any soft tissue structures can cause a breakdown of the tissue which causes pain.

Examples of these injuries are shin splints, low back strain, tennis elbow, wrist and forearm pain, neck and shoulder pain.

How can physiotherapy help?

The sooner you see a physiotherapist the sooner your pain will be reduced.

  • The tight muscles need to be stretched again and loosened.
  • The tight nerves need to be stretched.
  • The joints which have been tightened causing a restriction in movement need to be moved and the range of movement restored.
  • Muscle imbalance needs to be corrected.  Sometimes the working muscles become so strong the other supporting muscles become weaker.  This is referred to as a muscle imbalance.
  • Posture needs to be improved.
  • Advice will be provided on preventative action in the future to reduce the chances of this occurring again.


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