Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Garden stretch

Getting ready for pain free gardening ...

"When the garden is abloom and fresh tomatoes are juicy, efforts to primp petunias, add zing with zinnias and water, water, water seem minimal, no matter the effort that nurtured them. It's worth every minute and sore muscle. Still, smart gardening ideas can leave time to do other important things - like run a marathon or take a nap.

The goal is to put less stress on the body, says occupational therapist Lisa Howe, who specializes in ergonomics in the sports and therapy department of St. John's Mercy Medical Center.

"Not all ergonomic tools are the same," she warns of the catch-all term for products designed for efficient and safe use of the body. Howe adds that higher price does not always flag items that work the best.The point is to keep the body in a neutral position.

"The whole idea rests with us to be as physically gentle on our body as possible, yet gets the tasks done," Howe says.

Like the runner or walker in the St. Louis Family Fitness Weekend coming up, a person should stretch before and after gardening. Muscles that are not warmed up or overused tighten and hurt.

"Don't overdo it now, when we go straight from being inside all winter, or even later," she advises. "Don't plant all 200 flowers, don't move the whole pile of mulch in one day. Split it up."

Body mechanics

Working the correct muscles to lift, turn, move, push, dig, pull and carry helps the investment of time and sweat avoid undue strain on muscles and joints.

Howe concentrates on body mechanics:

- The spine, neck to lower back, should curve naturally.

- After bending the body in one direction, stand up and reverse the stretch.

- Keeping knees loose avoids undue stress.

- Rotate tasks to use various parts of the body.

- Take frequent breaks - at least every 30 minutes, more often if the body feels stress.

- Alternating tasks side-to-side strengthens muscles throughout the body and divides wear and tear. If a task only can be done on one side, carry equipment back to the garage using the other hand.

- When lifting, hold the item with both hands close to the body, keep feet about shoulder-width apart for a support base, squat instead of bending over, and lift with the legs rather than the back, tightening the lower abdominal muscles.

- Pivot, rather than twist. Keep feet, hips and shoulders facing the same direction.

Size up tools

Tools should be chosen to fit the gardener and the task.

"It's important to use our brains more than our bodies, whenever possible," Howe says.

She finds the one-size-fits-all attitude for tools impractical for "the wide variety of gardeners from 6-foot-6 to 4 foot 10 inches." This applies to everything in a gardener's toolbox - spades to trimmers, wheelbarrows to buckets.

"If you must use something the wrong size, for instance, a wheelbarrow that is too big, don't overfill it," Howe says. "When you pick one, be sure it has two wheels."

Handles should be long enough, yet provide leverage for the task. Howe thinks people of different sizes in a family should have his and hers rakes."    (Continued via Suburban Journals)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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