Gardening – an eco-friendly sport

Gardening is a popular activity that occurs year-round in some climates and can be intense during early spring and late autumn or fall.  Jobs such as clipping, raking, mowing, and weeding involve physical movements that demand good balance, stability and strength.  For many individuals, gardening is physically challenging and is a great form of ‘green exercise.’  But shoulder pain after gardening can sometimes derail those horticultural goals!

 

It’s not easy being green

While gardening is considered a ‘leisurely pastime,’ consider these factors that require general fitness — particularly from the arms and shoulders: (1)  the weight of gardening tools, (2) the awkward overhead and underhand postures required to perform gardening tasks, and (3) repetitive arm movements that characterize gardening chores.  These facets of gardening place stress on the muscles and joints of our body, and shoulder pain after gardening is a common complaint.  In fact, a survey conducted in Great Britain revealed that adults were ‘more likely to get injured gardening than skiing’!

 

Winter inactivity leads to muscle atrophy

During seasons of garden dormancy, our bodies (and gardening tools) often become ‘rusty.’  When spring arrives, an abrupt flurry of weekend gardening activity can leave our bodies in pain!  Referred to as Gardener’s Springtime Syndrome, this condition is experienced due to inadequate strength in the muscles around the shoulder and loading the shoulders and neck above their capabilities.   Hence, it’s not unusual to experience shoulder pain after gardening.

In addition to reduced activity during winter, many people experience age-related decline in shoulder strength. Diminished strength can be gradual and subtle, but not without small telltale signs.

 

Managing shoulder pain is within your reach

If you experience shoulder pain after gardening — or even after carrying heavy loads of laundry or groceries — then devote time and attention to strengthening your shoulder complex.  Strong evidence supports the notion that targeted exercises will alleviate pain and improve shoulder function.  And more evidence shows that improving shoulder strength safely, with gradual loading of the rotator cuff over at least a 3-month period, is the key to preventing and helping shoulder pain.

 

How to prevent gardening-induced shoulder pain

As a physiotherapist, I often treat people who experience neck and shoulder pain after gardening. Rotator cuff related shoulder pain is the most common clinical presentation affecting the shoulder. In many cases this is an avoidable situation because there are preventative habits you can establish to sidestep this type of injury.

Be body aware If you begin to experience minor strain in part of your body, take a break and stretch.  Repetitive movements or awkward body positioning leads to fatigue.

Alternate gardening activities. Try breaking up the gardening tasks into 15-minute portions.  Alternate between upper arm tasks and ground-level tasks. Too, this reduces the overall and repetitive load being placed on the shoulders, allowing the muscles to recover.

Improve your shoulder strength with exercises. There are a number of simple exercises that strengthen the shoulders using your own body weight as a form of resistance.

Try one or both of these exercises:


WALL PUSH-UP

  1. Stand up straight facing a wall.
  2. Take a step back and place the palms of your hands on the wall at shoulder height and slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Bend your elbows, taking your chest towards the wall. Keep your body in a straight line and tighten your buttocks and abdominals. Try to keep your head from poking forward.
  4. Return to the starting position by straightening your elbows, lifting your chest away from the wall.

wall-push-up


KNEE PUSH-UP

You can progress to push-ups on the floor after you are comfortable with wall push-ups:

  1. Lie face down with your hands on the floor, shoulder width apart and your fingers facing forwards.
  2. Press up from your knees using your arms and shoulders, lifting your chest so that you have a straight line from your head to your knees.  Keep your abdominals and core muscles tight so you do not arch or sag your back.
  3. Bend your elbows, lowering your chest down towards the start, keeping your body completely straight. 


Here are other SimpliMove.health blog posts that offer advice for building healthy habits while gardening: