Prep your body — the most important garden tool of all

As you lace up your old gardening shoes and head out to the yard, do you think of stretching before you pull on your gloves and get to work? Most gardeners don’t, which is why according to the Ontario Chiropractic Association, “gardening is the most common source of back and neck pain reported by patients in the warmer months.”

When bending over while gardening, keep your back straight and a slight bend in the knees.“I don’t think that people realize that gardening is a form of physical activity,” said Dr. Katherine Tibor, a chiropractor with a practice called Balanced Healthcare in Toronto. “They think of it as a chore and something that needs to be done, and forget about warming up and taking care of their bodies when gardening.”

To avoid stiff joints, sore muscles and, even worse, chronic neck and back pain, what exactly should you do before you start digging in the dirt? It may seem silly standing in the grass doing warm-up exercises, but your body will benefit in the long run. Tibor recommends doing a bit of gentle cardio, such as walking on the spot and then stretching out the muscles that you’re going to be using that particular day.

For example, high knee bends will stretch out the lower back and arm reaches forward will prep the upper body and middle spine.

There are also certain precautions gardeners should take once they get into the yard to plant or weed or hoe. Tibor said that one of the most common complaints she gets from patients is low back pain because a homeowner has gardened for a whole day or a whole afternoon without taking any breaks. However, other injuries can inadvertently occur while you’re lifting and straining and digging, as well.

One day last spring, Yvonne Cunnington, a garden writer who lives in Ancaster, Ont., was out in the garden for several hours, crouched down, transplanting perennials.

“My right ankle got pretty sore after several hours of this, but I wanted to get the job done,” she remembered.

Cunnington figures a bad sprain a year prior and the repetitive flexing from crouching caused her old injury to flare up again. After that long day, she couldn’t walk — her ankle was so swollen and in pain she needed crutches. Cunnington now uses a kneeling pad so that she’s not crouching and putting unnecessary strain on both her knees and ankles.

Besides stretching before and after gardening, there are also routine, preventive measures that can be taken, such as doing yoga.

“As gardeners, we tend to lovingly jump into tasks such as planting, weeding and pruning, forgetting about how we use our body,” said Jane Rostek, a yoga teacher at the Clayton Park location of Breathing Space Yoga in Halifax. “Regular practice builds strength and flexibility,” she explained.

Yoga also conditions our bodies to engage muscles not otherwise used in daily life and allows us to become more in tune with the capabilities and limitations of our body, she said.

According to Rostek, a few yoga poses that are beneficial to gardeners include: child’s pose, which stretches the lower back and shoulders; downward facing dog, which builds shoulder strength and stretches the muscles in the back of the legs and ankles; seated forward bend, which provides a stretch behind the legs; and all of the warrior poses, which build strength and flexibility in the legs, core and shoulders.

“Lengthening and strengthening poses tend to build strong shoulders, stretch the front of the body and are excellent for wrists — you will love and hate these poses at the same time,” Rostek said.

If you do feel pain, it’s important not to ignore it.

“Keep in mind the longer you’ve had the complaint, the longer it takes to go away,” Tibor said.

Make an appointment with your doctor or another health-care professional, such as a chiropractor, to address your concerns.

“Remember your body is your best gardening tool,” Rostek added. “Take care of it and it will serve you well!”


  • Nolan, Tara. “Prep your body — the most important garden tool of all.” Toronto Star. July 9, 2016.