LITTLE BY LITTLE Taking a break, standing straight and arching backwards while gardening will give sore muscles a rest.
‘Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ (John 20:29). I’m not usually one to quote the Gospels or give sermons, and I can’t claim to have had a truly religious experience at the time, but I did truly believe the man had a nail in his hand – largely because I could see it. One cold July morning 20 years ago, a man standing next to me nailed himself to a shed. No need to be a ‘Doubting Thomas’ .
Before anyone goes calling the authorities, I should explain. An event akin to the National Ploughing Championships is held in my home town in Australia and during my university holidays I used to help in setting up the site. On this particular morning we were building the aforementioned small wooden shed when my workmate swore loudly and asked for a handsaw. He had somehow miscalculated the thickness of the timber, the power of his nail gun and the position of his hand and left himself stuck there. He needed a saw to cut the timber and take it to hospital.
Now that we are all in lockdown and doing our gardening and home improvement jobs, it’s probably a good time to point out the injury risks. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you how not to nail yourself to a shed, fall off a ladder or chop your foot off with a lawnmower. There are some simple pointers I can give though.
How many of you have taken this time to paint something? The house, the shed, or a garden wall perhaps? Did you notice how sore your neck and shoulders get when working up high? That soreness isn’t necessarily because you have hurt yourself, but rather been spending a lot more time looking up and working overhead than normal. The obvious tip is to use a step or long handled roller for the high parts to reduce the reaching, but sometimes you don’t have that option.
If you are getting sore, take regular breaks and stretch your neck by turning your head from side to side. Drop your chin onto your chest, then look up as far as you can. Finally try dropping one ear onto your shoulder, tilting your head sideways and feeling a stretch in the opposite side of your neck. Repeating each movement five times every half hour will make a noticeable difference.
Thankfully the weather has been consistently good for the last few weeks, allowing the gardeners to get to work and non-gardeners to at least try. I often say that the first sunny weekend gives physios a month’s work as everyone charges out to get things done. Not this year. The usual time pressures have been eased somewhat - the weather is holding and there are fewer distractions in the diary. That being said, bending over a veggie patch or planting flowers can niggle regardless of how often you do it.
A stiff and sore back when gardening is a bit like neck pain when painting. By taking a break, standing straight and then arching backwards you will give the sore muscles a rest. Occasionally lying on your back with knees bent and rolling the legs from side to side for 30 seconds, then pulling one knee into your chest is a simple routine to keep the back moving. Using these exercises to warm up before starting and to loosen out after finishing could make a day of gardening less painful.
If you do manage to hurt yourself more seriously, ring your Chartered Physiotherapist. The doors to clinics may be closed, but advice can still be given over the phone or through online consultations.
A word of advice for those who choose to nail themselves to their shed; don’t attempt to DIY your rescue and most definitely do not attempt to pull your hand off the nail - there are barbs that will catch and make a bigger mess. Call an ambulance and let the experts take care of it.
Here endeth the lesson.
Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.