Tuesday, June 23, 2009


When the weather breaks, practice safe gardening

The weather has been downright dreadful this spring – if you have gotten much gardening done, it was likely in between raindrops and with a sweatshirt on.

But weather forecasters say it is only a matter of time before the cool, rainy pattern breaks down in favor of warmer and drier conditions.

Many of us will have a lot of yard work and gardening to do when the sunny weather finally arrives.

Before you start this physical activity, be sure to know more than just what flowers look good where - gardening has safety precautions you should be aware of:

* Stretching major muscle groups before and after spending many hours in the yard is beneficial to preventing injury and tight muscles.
* Having the proper tools for digging, planting, and moving rocks is important for successful gardening and good health. Ones with ergonomically-sound handles are important to preventing hand injuries and forearm muscle fatigue.
* Consider wearing safety goggles to protect the eyes when mowing or using a weed-wacker.
* Using proper body mechanics, lifting with your legs, squatting to weed or plant, and not bending over at the waist are essential practices for preventing a back injuries.
* Breaking up the tasks makes gardening safer. Don’t spend the entire day in one position, like kneeling to weed. By varying the tasks or doing different activities that require different body positions – such as reaching up to prune a bush, standing to dig a hole, kneeling to plant a flower, or squatting to move a rock - you can enjoy gardening longer with less risk of injuries.
* If you can’t vary the task, take breaks often and do something different. The garden will still be there when you’re ready to return to it.
* Protection from the sun is important. Wear proper clothing or sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids. Be aware of signs of heat-related illnesses, like fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea, confusion and a high body temperature.
* Gloves can protect your hands from cuts, insect bites, and chemicals used in the garden. Use insect repellent and inspect your skin after spending time in the yard to remove any ticks or properly care for any open wounds.
* Following equipment’s safety instructions and maintaining tools properly is safe and makes them more effective.

Gardening can be a great exercise involving endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. Enjoy it, but be careful.

Geoffrey Fabry is a physical therapist for The William W. Backus Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. Email Fabry and all the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

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