O My Blooming Back

Tips for taking the back pain out of gardening.

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Buying the Right Tools

The way we warm up, move, and plan can protect our back but so can good tools. Quality tools are better balanced. And the stronger they are, the more work they do for you. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind as you shop.


  • Match the tool to the job. Most people use tools that are too big for them, thinking it will ease the work, says Nuss. But it doesn't. Whenever you can, use a small shovel, rake, spade or pitch fork. That way you're lifting less weight.

  • Look for back-friendly features. Tools an extra three to five feet long--rakes, spades, hoes, pruners, even trowels — extend your reach, relieving strain on your back. Most garden stores sell extenders to customize tools. Some tools are also designed with bends in the handles to maximize leverage (see suggested tools below.).


  • Try it on for size. Before you buy something, imitate the motions you'll use in the garden. Make sure it's not too heavy or short for you to use comfortably.


  • Borrow power. Small garden tillers can be a blessing for the back-pain afflicted, says Nuss, although they're not useful for breaking new ground. Look for a light-weight one that you can manage easily.


  • Pad profusely. Kneeling pads and garden benches can pamper your back and joints. Padded hand tools also reduce the strain on your hands and arms.

    Limber Landscaping

    Gardening uses your whole body — as most of us wincingly realize after a bulb-planting afternoon. So it's helpful to loosen our muscles before getting started — and every so often as we work. Yoga instructor Sudha Carolyn Lundeen lays out some warm-up exercises:

    Pelvis tilts. In a chair, standing, or lying down, gently rock your pelvis back and forth, tailbone under, then bellybutton forward. Repeat five to 10 times.

    Cat and dog. Get on the floor on all fours, round your back like a cat, then release, lengthening your spine with your tailbone up like a dog, repeating the movements five to 10 times.

    Shoulder openers. Put your right hand on your right shoulder and then circle your elbow behind, to the side, and in front of you, winding like the hand of a clock. Repeat on the other side — again five to 10 times.

    Skyrise. Put your hands over your head, interlace your fingers, invert your palms up to the sky. Then push your palms and arms backward, dropping your chin to your chest. Pull your stomach in for support. Do five to 10 times.

    Shoulder squeeze. Put your hands behind your back, lace your fingers, push your arms outward, squeezing your shoulders toward each other. Pull in your abs, again for support. Repeat five to 10 times.

    — Dorothy Foltz-Gray is a contributing editor for Health, Alternative Medicine and Arthritis Today magazines. She is writing With and Without Her, a memoir about being and losing a twin.

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