Gardening and back pain

Gardening and back pain need not be synonymous!

Gardening injuries - Central City PhysiotherapyWhether gardening is a pleasure or a chore, many of us have a garden which needs to be maintained. Pay attention to the following handy tips in order to help minimise the risk of injury and take the strain out of gardening.

The “little and often” principle

Many tasks around the garden involve prolonged activities of a repetitive nature that may lead to achiness and pains. To avoid strain, use the “little and often ‘ principle or try switching from one task to another that uses a different group of muscles. For example: alternate digging with a job that involves stretching.

Avoid prolonged periods of:

    • Gripping or repetitive jarring
    • Bending or digging (try some warm –up exercises to prepare your muscles for the hard work)
    • Kneeling or sitting back on your heels (even with a kneeling mat). 

Manual handling and back care

Many gardening injuries occur carrying heavy and frequently used equipment in and out of storage places. Make sure storage areas are easily accessible and avoid things like steps and tight corners.

Try to avoid working in a reaching position, (e.g. do not hold hedge trimmers or shear too far in front of you).

When bending, digging and lifting keep your back straight and bend your knees.


Reduce the effort of hoeing and pruning by making sure the blades on your hoe, shares and secateurs are sharp.Back pain - Central City Physiotherapy

Handles of tools such as spades, shears, rake and hoes should preferably to long.

Ladies size forks and spades are lighter and easier to manage.

10 top tips

 Take a break every 10-20 minutes or between every change of task

  1. Mow grass while it is short
  2. Weed when weeds are young an easy to deal with
  3. Use a  spade with a small blade to avoid digging large spade-fulls
  4. Use raised flower beds to reduce bending when tending them
  5. Get a watering system to avoid carrying buckets and watering cans
  6. Remember student job search and other services to help you out with the big jobs
  7. Choose secateurs with a cut and hold action
  8. Don’t overload your wheelbarrow
  9. Go to a good garden centre and investigate specially designed tools to reduce the strain on your back
  10. Pay attention to any discomfort, dont work through pain

Watch your back in the garden!

Our physiotherapists can advise you how to avoid these injuries whilst gardening.

We often treat patients with wrist, shoulder and back pain attributed to carrying heavy items and lifting awkward loads.  To avoid this, we recommend that you warm up before and after gardening by stretching.  We can recommend the type of stretches that would be most appropriate.

For our older patients who are at greater injury risk, we recommend gardening earlier in the day when the weather is cool and bright.  This will minimise the risk of evening falls caused by reduced vision.

To help we have some handy tips for you to use when gardening.  For more comprehensive information on avoiding injury whilst gardening or undertaking other household activities see one of our physiotherapists.

Tip 1         Bend your knees

When lifting items, remember to bend your knees, not your back.  Never twist your body when your back is bent.  When lifting, keep your feet apart and one slightly in front of the other.  If you are unsure, we can demonstrate these techniques for you.

Tip 2         Don’t overfill

Never overfill your bucket, barrow or watering can.  Only carry as much weight as you know you can lift comfortably.  If you are unsure, we can help suggest an appropriate weight for you.

Tip 3         Equalise your loads

Distribute the load equally on each side of the body by using two lighter containers rather than one heavy one.

Tip 4         Closeness is the key

Always carry buckets, containers or loads as close to your body as possible.  Holding any weight away from your body increases the stress on your upper body and back.

Tip 5         Use your surroundings

Place a watering can on a stool or chair when filling it, so you don’t have to lift it up as far when it’s filled.  Place garden pots and containers on a bench to avoid bending to plant them out or work on them.