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Gardening With Back Pain: 7 Tips From an Experienced Gardener

The birds are chirping, the sun is saying hello, and your carrots are perfectly primed for harvesting. What sounds like a perfect day out in the garden can quickly get derailed by a flare-up of back pain. As someone who suffers from chronic pain, I’ve learned ways to prevent these flare-ups from happening and make gardening easier on my body. Here are my best tips for gardening with back pain.

happy Stephanie in the vegetable garden

More than a decade ago, I started Garden Therapy as a way to connect with others and share my experience about my disability and battling chronic fatigue and pain. One sudden headache turned into an illness that lasted nine years and has since relapsed.

I share a lot of my everyday struggles with my newsletter readers or over on Instagram (I’m a #spoonie), and they know that pain and fatigue continue to be a part of my daily life. I have my good days, and I have my bad ones.

I do my best to support this gardening community, and I know that many other gardeners also experience similar symptoms. When I asked for questions you had about gardening, I got an overload of people asking how to deal with chronic pain, from arthritis to fibromyalgia.

While some days you have to rest and take it easy, you can adapt to the garden to make it easier for yourself. I have a few tips for gardening with back pain to help you get back on your feet and enjoy some much-needed gardening therapy.

This post will cover…

California poppies
Let wildflowers fill the spaces in your garden. Fewer weeds mean less bending over!

Gardening is a Workout!

Gardening and back pain go together hand in hand. Not so lucky us.

Of course, the ergonomics of gardening means we’ll be bending down low to pick weeds and harvest bounties. There’s also plenty of physical labour full of improper lifting, snipping, and hauling dirt.

Just because we’re not out lifting weights or running doesn’t mean it can’t be significant physical activity.

Gardening may also be an activity that we only do on the weekends or every other day, meaning our bodies may not be used to physical activity. For those at the beginning of the season, or who are infrequent gardeners, back pain may pop up.

If you have chronic pain, regular back issues, or tight muscles in the back, you’ll find that this can be an ongoing concern all summer.

So, yes, unfortunately, back pain is one of those things that go along with gardening. . But there are ways you can mitigate it and handle gardening with back pain.

pruning a hedge with shears
Even something like pruning can be a serious arm workout.

Before Gardening

Prior to gardening, the best thing you can do is stretch. Before you get started, taking a few minutes to gently elongate your body and increase blood flow to your body will help to prevent some of that nasty back pain.

You can start with these five simple stretches for gardeners. They will loosen up the body and get ready for some immediate gardening activity.

You also want to think long-term and try to integrate some regular exercise into your routine. This can be whatever you want, from regular stretching to yoga or Pilates. I do Gyrotonic exercises, and I have found that it really helps my back muscles.

I also find that doing some foam roller exercises helps relax my back muscles. Essentially, doing these things on an ongoing basis will help keep it flexible and healthy so that the muscles aren’t so tight when you start gardening for the season.

tall tree stretch for gardening with back pain
Photo by Kristy Ware. Find more of her stretches here.

During Gardening

While gardening, you want to find ways to relieve and prevent the issues that cause back pain in the first place.

A big part is bending properly. Most people will bend with their shoulders leading and really round their back. What you want to do instead is bend just at the waist, jut your butt out, and keep a straight back.

Avoid bending and lifting as much as possible. This can include using wheeled carts and wheelbarrows and keeping as much at waist height as possible.

Also, look for tools that have long, ergonomic handles. They will allow you to reach the ground easier. I have a lot of ergonomic and accessible tool suggestions here.

Stephanie Rose in the garden with bucket and plant trimmings - gardening for back pain
If you’re able to, try to squat more rather than bend to give your back a break.

Raised Gardening Beds

To relieve back pain, another great one is to use raised gardening beds. When my back is sore, but I want to garden still, I go to my highest bed so I don’t need to bend.

At my last house, I had a tiered gardening bed where I grew all my vegetables. One of the tiers was right at standing waist height. It was my favourite garden to work on because it wasn’t very low to the ground, and I could easily work on it.

When I first moved into the house, the previous owners had a vegetable garden with a plank in the middle to walk on. Not only did I have to reach down to garden, but I had to stretch below where I was standing on the plank to reach the soil.

To save my back, I completely changed the bed’s structure and into my tiered raised bed. Don’t be afraid to change things up so you have better accessibility. Either get yourself lower or the gardens high to relieve back pain!

Vertical garden with three stacked raised beds
The unique tiered gardening bed that I used to grow my vegetables.

Pacing Yourself

You don’t have to be a weekend warrior and spend all your time gardening. Sure, you could get all your weekend projects done in an 18-hour period OR you could do little bits of gardening every day.

By pacing yourself and taking lots of breaks, you’ll get plenty of gardening therapy while not overworking, Instead, you’ll condition your muscles. So go on and make sure you have a comfy patio chair and a delicious cocktail to sip on while you kick your feet up!

wooden bench in shady garden
Add seating to your garden so you have somewhere to stop and take a break.

After Gardening

After gardening, it’s time to treat yourself to some TLC. Your body has just done plenty, so you need to give it some time to relax. I like to take a warm bath with Epsom salts to help relieve my muscles and apply my magnesium lotion.

You can also do another round of stretches—the same ones as above are fine. Or mix things up with some yoga poses and deep breathing instead.

It’s important to remember that gardening is like any other athletic or physical venture. Taking the time to do the pre and post-work, and being conscious while working, can help mitigate back pain. I find it the most enjoyable way of getting exercise as I also enjoy the therapeutic benefits of being outside.

magnesium lotion bottle and dried chamomile flowers
My magnesium lotion helps to treat my pain from fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gardening With Back Pain

Why do I ache so much after gardening?

Prolonged movement and activity can overexert the muscles. This can happen when we garden for longer than usual, after doing high-intensity activities like lifting or digging, or when we haven’t gardened in a while and need to build up our stamina again.

How can I work on my yard without injuring my back?

You need to be conscious of your back before, after, and during gardening. Beforehand, do some mild stretching to ease your body into activity. While gardening, pace yourself and take breaks. Also, consider working on raised beds where you don’t have to bend down. After gardening, do more stretching and relax with a warm bath or other heat.

How do you stretch your back for gardening?

Try tall like a tree, where you stand hip-width apart. Reach your arms above your head and sway your arms to the left, then right. See how to do this stretch in this post.

Another great one is the forward fold or half forward fold. Slightly bend the knees and lower your hands to the ground or rest them on your shins, depending on your flexibility. Hold for 4-8 breaths.

Stephanie bending over by spruce trees - gardening for back pain

I hope these tips help you while gardening with back pain. They have made a world of difference to me. If you have any other tips, please share them with the community by leaving a comment down below.

More Tips for Adjusting the Garden

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