April showers bring May flowers! Many of us will be out in our gardens this month, digging, raking, hoeing, mowing, seeding, planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, trimming, and pruning. Whew – sounds like a lot of work! Gardening is an enjoyable way to be outdoors, but the demands involve:
- awkward postures (bent backs, crouching, squatting)
- high forces (lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, and gripping)
- repetitive or sustained activity
So if you thought gardening felt like too much work to be a “leisure” activity, you were right! Gardening demands are very similar to job demands.
These tasks shouldn’t cause problems if they are performed for only short periods of time. However, when that first full weekend of warm weather comes, many of us itch to work in the yard – often for hours at a time!
The “risk factors” associated with gardening may lead to fatigue, contact stress (bruising or calluses), muscle soreness, and even injury. (Not to mention possible sunburn, bug bites and heat stress!)
Ergonomics, usually considered “fitting work to people”, can also be applied to the work we do at home. Good body mechanics for gardening are the same as for anyone working in industry:
- Keep the load close to the body.
- Avoid over-reaching.
- Bend the knees and keep the back straight (butt out) when lifting or shoveling (just like when you were handling snow, not so long ago).
- Lighten the load when possible. Take less than you think you can handle to avoid over-exertion.
Other ideas for “biomechanical” gardening:
- Consider raised garden beds to minimise bending. A 36” (91 cm) high garden will minimise back bending for most individuals.
- Incorporate “perch” seats into flower boxes to allow a quick break.
- Keep garden beds narrow to minimise reaching. If the bed is accessible from both sides, it can be up to 4’ (122 cm) wide. A bed that is accessible only from one side should be less than 2’ (61 cm) wide for easy access.
- Container gardens allow much better accessibility – use wheeled pot holders for even better ergonomics!
- Consider low maintenance lawns (e.g. chamomile) to eliminate mowing!
- Choose drought-resistance plants to minimise the need to water.
As always, selecting the right tool for the job is key! Tools to help you maintain good posture, lessen the load, and maintain a comfortable grip:
- Ladders and step stools
- Grippy handles
- Stools to allow you to sit to work, or cushions to kneel instead of stooping or squatting.
- Light weight gardening tools
- Tools that let you work with more neutral postures (i.e. long enough handles so that you can stand upright; angled tools to straighten the wrist)
- Add secondary handles for a better grip when shoveling or raking
- Well-fitting gloves with a good grip
Grab your tools and plants, and make gardening a leisurely activity!