Safe gardening and DIY

Complete those jobs around the house and garden safely by following the advice below.

Gardening

Before you begin

Warm up

Although gardening and DIY are not sports, they are still hard work - especially for people who are unaccustomed to strenuous exercise or spend most of their week in a sedentary job. Protect your body by doing some simple stretching exercises to prepare your muscles before putting them to work.

If you suffer from back pain, you will need to take extra care. To reduce the risk of aggravating your back problem, limit periods of intensive physical labour. By planting low maintenance shrubs and bushes in your garden you can cut the amount of time you spend digging, potting and weeding. If you need to move heavy objects, try and share the weight with another person.

Wear suitable clothing

Clothes that allow you to move around easily will make you feel better prepared for the job. Never go barefoot whilst working in the garden or the house. Wear sturdy, solid shoes that protect and support your feet. Keep long hair and jewellery out of the way.

Ensure you have the correct tools for the job

Well designed tools can help prevent back pain so look for equipment that suits your height and build. Light longer handled tools reduce the need to bend, give more leverage.

Plan ahead

Home improvements can take far longer than anticipated. Many injuries occur because we are tired or over-do things, so set realistic timeframes and don't be tempted to cut corners to try and rush a project through

Identify potential hazards

Does your house or garden contain hidden hazards that could cause you to trip or fall? Beware of uneven steps, slippery paths, broken paving slabs and loose carpets. If you are working in the loft, or on the stairs, make sure there is enough light for you to be able to see what you are doing.

Know your limits

Accept that if a job is too demanding, it would be safer to get help

Things to think about while you work

Most important - multiple jobs

Try to have 2 or 3 jobs on the go at one time, all at varying heights and spend 20 min max before moving on

Lifting

Don't try to lift too much at once and remember to keep the load close to your body. Keep your stomach muscles pulled in, bend with your knees (not with your back) and push up with your legs. Only relax the stomach muscles once you have released the load & are back in an upright position.

If an object is too heavy for you, use a wheelbarrow or a trolley if appropriate, or ask someone to help.

Use equipment safely

Think posture all the time

  • Don't risk straining your back by swinging lawn mowers from side to side. Turn your body in line with the mower and keep an upright posture - imagine you have a wire attached to the top of your head, which is pulling you up and making you taller.
  • Wheelbarrows shouldn't be difficult to push - use light loads and make several trips.
  • Reduce the need for bending by using a workbench. The surface of the bench should reach waist height. Try to stand up straight while you work - slouching with your shoulders curved forward puts a strain on your back.
  • Ensure that your ladder is well positioned on a stable surface. Don't be tempted to save time by over-reaching - it's easy to lose your balance.
  • Pruning for hours on end can cause tennis elbow symptoms. Use secateurs that have a cut and hold action and take breaks every 15-20 minutes.
  • Do not prune above head height, so you constantly have to look up for longer than 10 min and not at all if you have a neck problem.

Weeding and planting

  • Plant from a kneeling position (use special knee-pads, or a kneeler) and don't strain yourself by over-reaching.
  • Don't stay in the same position for too long. Either work at something else which will allow you to change position, or take a break.
  • If you are pulling up weeds or shrubs with deep roots, keep your back as straight as possible, let your legs take the strain & hold your tummy muscles in!.

Digging

Shovelling is perhaps the most strenuous of garden chores because it involves intensive bending, twisting and lifting - which can result in back pain if performed incorrectly.

Don't stoop to dig. Bend at your knees, let your legs take the strain and remember to shovel small amounts at a time. Change your position frequently and allow plenty of rest periods

Painting and decorating

Attach an extension pole to your paint roller. This will enable you to reach further without having to compromise your safety by balancing on unstable surfaces & limits the necessity to hold your head back for too long.

Don't overdo it

Listen to your body and stop work immediately if you notice aches and pains setting in. Set realistic timeframes for projects and give your body a chance to recover by taking regular breaks and drinking plenty of water.

Relax

  • A little mild, non-impact exercise such as walking or swimming will help your body cool down and can help ward off post exercise muscle soreness.
  • Place a cushion between your lower back and a chair which will help support the natural curve in your spine and relieve tension.
  • If you have been bending a lot, don't relax by slobbing on the sofa, spend 10-15 min lying on your tummy propped up on your elbows before sitting in a firm and not too low chair.

If you become injured

If you don't begin to see an improvement within 48 hours, seek advice from a chartered physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist will assess your condition, offer a suitable treatment programme and provide you with advice on how to prevent further problems.

Read about more common conditions, or contact us to find out how we can help.