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


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