How to survive gardening


Gardening is a great pleasure for many people and need not be a back breaking hobby. With a bit of forethought and planning, even those with a bad back can enjoy their gardening. This article is intended to give you advice on how you can help your garden without killing your back!
It is important to wear loose comfortable clothing and in cold weather to wear several layers to keep your muscles warm. Comfortable, strong, sturdy well fitting flat shoes with good non-slip soles, are vital.
Remember that gardening is a form of exercise and can be vigorous and detrimental to your back. It is therefore essential to spend a few minutes warming up before you start. This will prepare the body for activity and will reduce the chance of injury.
Good activities to include in your warm-up are:
  • Walking on the spot (gradually increasing the height you lift your knees).
  • Increasing the speed of walking to a marching pace.
  • Circling your shoulders forwards and backwards.
  • Swinging your arms forwards and backwards.
  • Gently circling your pelvis.

You could start with these and gradually build up your own routine to what feels to be right for you.


If you are returning to gardening after an acute episode of back pain, it is important that you pace yourself and gradually build up. It is very easy to become over-enthusiastic and do too much one day and then suffer the next day and do little, only to return to excessive activity when the pain subsides. In this way it is very easy to "yo-yo" your own symptoms.
Your back is most at risk when bending, lifting or twisting and sometimes a combination of these and the forward bent position. You can reduce this risk by:
  • Always working close to you to avoid over-reaching or straining.
  • Bending at the hip, e.g. kneeling down not stooping and bending your back.
  • Moving your feet to avoid twisting your spine.
  • Avoiding overloading your fork/spade/wheelbarrow. Remembering that smaller loads are best.
  • Limit the time you are in one position to 10 to 20 minutes. This is true for standing, as well as kneeling and bending positions.
  • When lifting, if you can, push or roll the load rather than carry it.
  • Divide the load and make several trips if you are moving compost, stones etc.
  • If you have to lift the load, make sure there are no obstacles in the way.
  • Keep your feet at least hip width apart to give you a stable base.
  • Get as close to the load as possible.
  • You might test the weight of the load first by lifting one corner. If it is too heavy give up and get help.
  • Bend your knees rather than your back wherever possible.
  • Grasp the loads with your whole hands, not just your finger tips.
  • Keep your head erect and your shoulders back with your arms as relaxed as possible to avoid straining your spine.
  • Remember when putting down a load, you still need to bend your knees and not your back.


Well designed tools can be a great help in lessening the possibility of back pain. There are specially designed tools for people with back pain available from good Garden Centres.
Before buying tools always handle them to test their weight, their height, their balance and the suitability for the job. In general, stainless steel tools are better and easier to clean.
Whenever possible aim for lightweight tools with long handles as these reduce the need to bend or stoop and remember that automatic re-winding hose pipes and electric leads can reduce the amount of effort.
In the autumn, leaves can be a problem, and this can be significantly reduced by the use of lightweight vacuums which shred the leaves as they suck them up. This is more back friendly and useful in making compost.


When choosing a lawnmower, ensure that the size of the mower is enough to match the size of your garden, hence reducing the extent of effort. An electric start or an electric mower is preferable than one that utilises a pull-cord.


Try and prevent the grass getting too long, as longer grass increases the strain of mowing.

  • If you have a petrol mower, take care not to stoop when starting it. Try bracing your foot against the machine for balance, bending your supporting knee and pulling the cord,
  • Always work behind the mower and move it forward. Never attempt to swing lightweight mowers from side to side, as the twisting motion is an irritant to the back.
  • If necessary take breaks, mowing little and often. Try and keep your body as upright as possible,


These are probably the heaviest tasks in the garden, and for these:

  • Warming up first is essential.
  • Use a long handled and lightweight spade to reduce the amount you bend
  • Keep your back straight and slightly arched.
  • Use your legs, not your back as your leg muscles are much stronger than your back.
  • Dig/shovel small amounts each time.
  • Take regular breaks, approximately every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Use a two wheel wheelbarrow with a pram handle, as this is easier to control and make sure you do not overload the wheelbarrow. It is much better to make several trips with a lighter load than overdo it with larger ones.
  • If you are digging out a tree stump or shrub, lever it up slowly, to try and avoid jerking and straining of your back.


Try to avoid planting large trees that shed leaves and fast growing hedges that require constant clipping and pruning.

  • Sensible plant selection can lessen the hard work of planting, e,g, choose low maintenance shrubs, herbaceous perennials and ground cover rather than annual bedding plants.
  • However tempting it may be to stoop, try to avoid this as far as possible.
  • Kneeler seats, preferably with handles, can be particularly useful or use a kneeling mat.
  • Keep close to the area you are planting to lessen the extent of straining or over-reaching and if you find kneeling difficult try a long-handled lightweight fork or hoe.
  • Where ground cover is unsuitable, covering the soil with bark chippings and mushroom compost helps to keep the weeds down and conserves moisture.


To avoid carrying heavy watering-cans, you can use a couple of water butts set part-way down the garden. They collect rain water and can be filled with a hose in the dry season.

  • Watering is then easier with a lightweight plastic can.
  • Seek advice from your Garden Centre about draught-resistant plants if your borders get a lot of strong sunlight.


Lightweight long-handled secateurs and pruners make this task easier. Remember to oil them after each use to prevent rusting and to keep their action smooth. Where necessary use a step-ladder to avoid over-reaching the taller plants.


Raised beds are an excellent idea for people with back problems and the maximum recommended width for each of these is 4 ft. so the middle can be reached from both sides.

  • Purpose built raised beds can be expensive but old water tanks, oil drums and boxes are economical alternatives. The front can be disguised with a climbing or trailing plant.
  • Always seek help when moving containers of soil. Better still, use a mechanical aide.
  • For more traditional flower beds, once again keep them to a maximum width of 4 ft. wide, so that you do not have to over-reach.


Do bear in mind that it is possible to change the design of your garden to make it easier to manage.


By planning the storage of your tools carefully you can save unnecessary strain of having to move equipment and climb over it every time you want something. Whether you keep your tools in a shed or garage, storing them in an orderly way is important, particularly with heavy equipment, e.g. the mower.

Send to friend      Ask a question