Helpful Strategies to Prevent Pain in Your Garden

With warmer weather appearing, many of us will soon be outside mulching, digging, weeding, and planting. These activities are often repetitive and tiring on our bodies; therefore, it is important to maintain proper posture and to use approaches that allow completion of these tasks without pain. Here are a few strategies.

Plant Location

  • Ground level: Try to do ground level work on your hands and knees to minimize pressure placed on your spine. Periodically swapping your working hand with the one you’re putting weight through may reduce pressure on wrists/shoulders.
  • Raise your garden: For gardeners who cannot make it to ground level, consider a vertical garden design to reduce the need for bending. Lots of inexpensive ideas exist, get creative!


  • Lift closer to your body: Objects further away prevent us from using our larger, stronger muscles. Using a closer approach with good form allows us to use these muscles.
  • Bend at your knees – not your back: A rounded spine with lifting causes increased pressure on the discs in our backs. Keep your back flat and squat down to lift target object by bending your knees and hips.
  • Tighten your abdominals: Grenier and McGill1 found that an abdominal bracing technique allows for greater stabilization of the lower back. To brace your abdominals, push out your belly; to ensure you’re bracing correctly before lifting, use your hands: the sides and front of your abdomen should be more firm.


  • Keep your tools sharpened: Dull tools may cause us to use more repetitive motion creating more stress the joints in our hands and wrists. It’s a worthy investment to reduce effort. Local hardware stores often offer sharpening services at a reasonable price.
  • Use body-friendly tools: Tools designed for a neutral wrist/hand position may allow for improved strength and less repetitive stress on your joints. They may also reduce the amount of force required from your shoulders to garden.

Hopefully these tips will help both novice and experienced gardeners this spring. If you do suffer from pain with gardening this spring, don’t hesitate to seek the expertise of a physical therapist.

Reference: Grenier SG, Mcgill SM. Quantification of lumbar stability by using 2 different abdominal activation strategies. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007;88(1):54-62.

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