Gardener: Healthy Back or Danger?

yay-6816970If you are a gardener, you probably know you need to use your legs to lift, keep a straight back to dig or rake, balance your weight to shovel. However, you may not know the hazards of crouching forward for a long time. You may not even associate gardener leaning forward bluesubsequent pain in walking or standing with the gardening you love.

As a dedicated gardener, you might not change position often. Instead, your focus is to dig just one more plant, or finish the row. Or perhaps to harvest the rest of the vegetables before dark, or before it starts to rain. It is easy to get so lost in the pleasures of gardening that you may neglect the gardener.

yay-5639640The back is designed for upright support

The muscles of the back support the upper body when you stand or sit upright. A steady forward bend creates an imbalance of tension. Some muscles tighten and hold too much, others let go so you can stretch forward. What happens next?

Gardener: sustained forward bend might mean danger!

When you stay in a forward bend, whether digging, weeding or planting, you probably are not thinking of your body. You may not notice that you are tightening some muscles that normally contract when you bend at the hip. These are called psoas, or iliopsoas. They may stay locked or not release when you stand. Other small muscles tighten to brace your posture. Then, when you stand, they may stretch suddenly. They get injured, as some of the small muscle fibers tear.

The discs of your low back act as cushions between the vertebrae. When your body is leaning forward, you may be creating sustained pressure on the front of your discs. This decreases circulation to the discs. If you make a sudden movement to stand after bending forward for a long time, the fluid disc pressure may not change quickly enough.

Postpone the pain?

Your back may not hurt until later. Perhaps that evening or the next day, you challenge your low back muscles during walking or digging, driving, or running. These may put demands on the piriformis, an important deep muscle behind the pelvis that helps with walking and hip movement. If it contracts from a day of crouching, it might create pain with an upright night.

Other deep muscles help the hip and leg rotate outwards when you are walking. If your pelvis does not regain easy movement, you may find pain and tension up the back and into the neck. Or down the legs and into the calves. As your body unconsciously tenses, more muscles engage in a holding pattern of contraction or guarding.

Time for gardener’s self care, avoid pain

yay-9865402yay-9374520Are you willing to attend to the gardener’s body signals that mean: “get up, move around”? If you take frequent breaks from sustained forward bending or crouching, and apply appropriate stretches, you are well on your way to awaken the kinesthetic sense that allows you to avoid pain. However, if you have existing tightness in your low back or sacrum, or have lost sensation in muscles that have fallen into disuse, it is better if those conditions are addressed first. Massage or Ortho-Bionomy® can help. Attempting to stretch a strained muscle will not allow it to relax, and may even increase the pain.

Call your massage therapist for some Ortho-Bionomy®!

Ortho-Bionomy®, gentle neuromuscular, massage or myofascial techniques allow the body to come into a state of relaxation and release out of tension patterns. No deep tissue is used here!

If you are a gardener, and have pain in any of these areas, I would be happy to help you restore ease and comfort in sitting, standing and walking, find a good night’s sleep and wake to another fine day of gardening. Give me a call, 503-708-2911.