Gardening involves being outdoors and having your hands in contact with the earth, which are both things that have lots of therapeutic benefits. The act of getting down on the ground (and back up again) is a really important skill to have and keep.
But I have lots of clients who experience knee or lower back pain after a weeding session, which kinda takes the joy out of it right? In fact, that knee and/or back pain can leave people reluctant to get up and down from the floor and they basically stop doing it, which isn’t ideal as the problem then only gets worse and it becomes a bigger rigmarole if you do ever need to get to the floor.
Your body is asking you to do something different
Instead of thinking that you need to stop gardening, think of pain as an action signal from the body. It’s not telling you what’s wrong but is rather a request for something to change:
Improving your hip and leg strength will go a long way to protecting your knees. Why? Because if your hip muscles aren’t as strong as they could be there’s a good chance your knee rolls in and puts a bit of a weird twist in the joint every time you bend it. Even if you’ve had a knee replacement, if you don’t address that weird twist it’s not going to be doing your knee joints much good in the long term. In my classes people learn how to stand differently in order to use more hip strength when standing. It’s simple but not necessarily easy to put into practice; it can be done though and makes a massive difference to both your strength and flexibility.
Noticing how you bend and learning to keep the neutral curves in your spine will help you to protect your back. I see so many clients who have no idea that they’re rounding in the lower back as they bend, which means the lumbar discs are taking lots of load instead of the hip muscles. I teach a hip hinge which challenges your self-awareness and flexibility. Again, sounds pretty simple right? It is, but not necessarily easy to put into practice. To hinge at the hip with a straight back takes the pressure off the lumbar spine, lengthens the hamstrings and calves and strengthens the glutes. With practice, you can learn to perform this simple movement efficiently, without letting the ankles and knees roll in, and noticing how far you’re able to go before the back starts to round.
On that note… in order to allow the back to hinge at the hips and use your hip muscles more (and therefore protect your knees…), you really need length in your calves and hamstrings. If you don’t have flexibility in the back of your body you’re tethered in terms of the amount of functional strength you can gain. I teach foot stretches, calf stretches and hamstring stretches which enable you to lengthen the right bits whilst keeping the joints in the right place.
The moral of the story is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Until you’ve had your alignment assessed you might not be aware of how you might be unintentionally making your knee problems worse. Don’t stop doing stuff, change how you do it!
About the author
Georgina Ramos is a movement focused therapist based at the Sheffield Wellness Centre. She is trained in Pilates, among many other things but MoveFree is her take on several different fields and she has brought them together. This has enabled her to be able to treat people with a wide range of aches and pains through to insomnia and IBS.