Spring has arrived! But after a winter curled up with books by the fire, a day of gardening can be followed by two or three days of pain. The next few posts will be dedicated to stretches that will help ward off injuries from gardening. (If you already have back problems, ask your doctor before adding these stretches to your pre-gardening routine.)
Here are two of my favorites. Many people don't realize that some back injuries can be caused from tightness in the hamstrings (the muscles that run up and down the backs of your thighs). With all the bending and squatting that gardening requires, stretching your hamstrings can help avoid sciatica pain (literally a pain in the butt).
Single leg stretch - Lie flat on the carpet or a yoga mat, if you have one. Lift your head off the floor (this helps alleviates strain by keeping your lower back firmly planted) and bring your right knee to your chest. Very gently, tug your knee closer twice, then switch legs and repeat, keeping your head up off the mat. Five or six times on each leg should loosen you up.
Single straight leg stretch - Still lying flat, after you've rested your neck for a few breaths, lift your head again, keep you legs straight, and pull your right leg towards you - holding on to where ever is comfortable: your thigh, your calf or your ankle. Tug the leg toward you twice very gently, and switch legs. Repeat five or six times on each leg.
Another habit to get into before you grab your gardening gloves (or even other times like before you sit down at your computer!) is roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion - lifting them up towards your ears and then pushing them down as far as they will go - squeezing your shoulder blades together and then spreading them apart in the motion. Then reverse and roll your shoulders backwards. Then move your head from side to side (gently!) to loosen up your neck and shoulders.
Do these stretches before and after raking, digging or weeding (A ten minute walk before and after will help also - warm up those muscles as well as loosen them).
And finish the whole day with a warm bath with 2 cups of Epsom salts. Old-fashioned, I know, but it works. Pain-free gardeners are happy gardeners.