Growing your own food for health, fun and sustainability can be a fun and relaxing way of reconnecting with mother nature and with the rising cost of groceries, growing a vegetable garden can be a great way to save money on home grocery budgets. But the use of hoes, trowls and weed wackers has also been sending aspiring gardeners to their local doctor of chiropractic with yard-work related muscle strains and pains.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, here are some outdoors-related injury statistics to consider as you pull on your gardening gloves and lace up your boots:

  • In 2010, more than 35,500 people injured themselves using a stepladder
  • More than 41,000 Americans injured themselves while gardening or using gardening equipment
  • More than 127,000 people were injured while operating a lawn mower.

"Gardening and yard work can bring on many injuries for a variety of reasons. Specifically, people tend to do too much too soon," states local Chiropractor, Dr. Lauren Walker, D.C., former Chiropractic Director of Chiro One Wellness Center of Mill Pond. "Many common injuries including tendonitis, sprains, strains or breaks can be prevented with proper technique like bending at the knees when lifting instead of from the back or securing and stabilizing a ladder before climbing.  These are simple precautions that are overlooked too often." Whether you're maintaining a vegetable garden or adorning your yard with fragrant spring flowers and bushes, Chiro One Wellness Centers caution that using this equipment can result in back and neck pain, as well as more serious muscular strains and tears if not used properly. “The repetitive motion that your body undergoes when using such equipment can bring on a whole host of mechanical problems within the body,” says Walker. Dr. Lauren Walker offers the following tips to help you enjoy a safe, productive day of summer landscaping:

  • Regardless of what piece of equipment you are using, make sure it has a strap—and that you use it. Place the strap over your head on the shoulder on the opposite side of your body from the device. This will help normalize your center of gravity.
  • Be sure to switch the side on which you are operating the equipment as often as possible, and to balance the muscles being used, alternate your stance and motion frequently.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Consider electric-powered items, especially if you experience back or neck pain, as they tend to be lighter than their engine-powered counterparts.
  • When picking up or putting down your equipment, be sure to bend from the knees, not at the waist.
  • Keep the object close to your body as you lift, not at arm’s length. “While it is critical that you operate your yard equipment safely, it is equally important that you prepare your body for the work you are about to do,” explains Walker “To help avoid injury, be sure to include a warm-up/cool-down period that involves stretching.”
Before stretching, here are a few tips to keep in mind. Breathe in and out slowly throughout each stretching exercise until the muscle is stretched to its furthest point. At that point, hold your breath in. When you relax, breathe out. Stretch gently and smoothly. Do not bounce or jerk your body in any way and stretch as far as you can comfortably. You should not feel pain. Following are stretches that Walker and Chiro One Wellness Centers recommend for getting the most out of the time you spend in the yard:
  1. Stand up and prop your heel on a back door step or stool with your knee slightly bent. Bend forward until you feel a slight pull at the back of the thigh, called the hamstring. You may need to stabilize yourself by holding onto a garage door handle. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then relax. Do it once more, then repeat with the other leg.
  2. Stand up and put your right hand against a wall or other stable surface. Bend your left knee and grab your ankle with your left hand. Pull your heel toward your buttocks to stretch the quadricep muscle at the front of your thigh. Hold the position for 20 seconds, relax and do it again. Repeat with the other leg.
  3. Weave your fingers together above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds to stretch the side of your upper body, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.
  4. Hug yourself. Wrap your arms around yourself after letting your breath out and rotate to one side, as far as you can go. Hold it for 10 seconds. Then reverse. Repeat two or three times.