Yard work is hard work—here's how to tend to any aches and pains.

By Lauren Wellbank
April 08, 2021
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Maintaining a garden is vigorous work, which means it can also be taxing on your body. Spending hours hunched over your beds can lead to everything from a stiff neck to achy, bruised knees. Fortunately, it's easy to avoid most garden-related injuries entirely, but if you do find yourself grappling with some discomfort, the expert-approved tips ahead will help you manage.

woman crouching while planting flowers garden
Credit: AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

First, know that some discomfort is normal.

A stiff neck, tight knees, and sore back are all common symptoms of holding certain positions for too long, says Greg DeMarco, a doctor of physical therapy at Trinity Rehab. "Specific to gardening, the back of the neck may become irritated from a sustained position of looking downward towards the plants you are tending," he says. "We call this neck flexion." This bodily arrangement can overload the sub-occipital tissues, he adds, which are a collection of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that run from your neck up to the base of your skull. "Tension, pain, and or irritation to these structures can trigger local muscle aches, headaches, or even radiating pain to surrounding areas." Is your pain concentrated lower? Your knees might be fatigued from all that bending; this is known as knee flexion. "And if you already have knee arthritis, then a deep knee bend usually doesn't feel good, especially when combined with the direct pressure that comes with kneeling," notes Dr. DeMarco.

Stretch it out.

If you've spent a little too much time in the garden and are feeling the effects of your labors, Chad Benson, the director of education at WRKOUT, says that circulation is the key to feeling better quickly. "Light stretching, flow yoga, a hot bath, saunas, fancy vibrating foam rollers or guns, or a good, old-fashioned hot pack" will do the trick, he says. "All will improve blood flow."

Call your doctor if your pain sets in quickly.

In rare cases, post-garden aches and pains may be a sign of something more serious, which is why Benson says to dial up your doctor if the discomfort you feel includes swelling, tingling, burning sensations, or numbness. "If the onset of discomfort was quick, or you can point to a specific moment when it started, you likely suffered an acute injury," he says, adding that if the appropriate rest, stretching, foam rolling, massage, or circulation either increases symptoms or doesn't cause symptoms to improve within 72 hours of their onset, then it's probably time to call your medical practitioner.

Prevention is key.

The best way to treat an injury is to prevent it from happening, says Dr. DeMarco, which is why he suggests minding your form while you're working in the garden. "This can be achieved with better posture and using what we call different 'movement strategies' so that you don't overload any one particular body region," he says. "For example, the spine craves a neutral position, meaning a relatively straight line from the back of your head, to your mid-back, and down to your tail bone." Be sure to stand up frequently if you are performing tasks that require you to hunch—and spare your neck by making sure your head is not sagging or "poking forward" towards the ground, Dr. DeMarco notes.

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