Ready, Set, Go!

How Not to Strain that Green Thumb

By Tanya Davies

You eagerly awaited all spring to start gardening, now it’s time to get digging, mowing, mulching and planting. All of these gardening activities might seem low impact and innocent, but they can be hard on your body if you aren’t prepared.

Here are some suggestions for getting your green thumb and the rest of your body, garden-ready.

Have a strong body

The best way to make sure you don’t get injured with the sudden use of muscles that have been hibernating all winter is to make your body stronger. “One key to a pain-free life is to keep strong,” explains Glenn Burke, Certified Athletic Therapist and Clinical Director at Advanced Physiotherapy & Sports Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario. He recommends walking as a way to condition the lower body. “And it’s not just walking down the street,” says Glenn. “You can walk in a pool, or on a trail with a friend.” Combine that with simple upper and lower body strength exercises for overall conditioning.

If you don’t know where to start, see an Athletic Therapist. They can teach you strengthening exercises to maintain fitness and prevent injuries.

Stretch before you start gardening

It is understandable that you want to start cleaning up your garden and planting right away, but your body will thank you later if you stretch for 10 minutes first. “Stretching prepares your body for work,” says Glenn. “It gets the heart pumping, blood flowing, and neurons and muscles firing.” Your risk of injury decreases with stretching before activity.

Try to include all the major joints and muscles when you stretch, including your hands and thumbs, adds Glenn, as gardening is a full-body activity.

The proper lift

When you’re picking up a heavy bag of fertilizer, remember to “use your legs” explains Glenn. “Too many people rely on their back and arms to lift heavy objects, and that’s an easy way to hurt yourself.” When leaning down to pick something up, bend at the knees into a squat position, don’t bend at the waist. 

Post-gardening stretch

Once you put your gardening equipment away, stretch one more time to help the muscle tissue relax after the hard work.  “Post-activity stretching allows your body to cool down and recover,” says Glenn. Do the same type of stretches you did to warm up. 

Rest if you overdo it

You go to bed happy with your day’s work in the garden. But, when you wake up the next morning, you’re sore. “This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or what some people call ‘a good hurt’,” explains Glenn. “This is totally natural and your body’s way of getting stronger.” Rest, stay hydrated and do some light stretching to recover. And if recovery does not seem to be happening as fast as you might expect, an Athletic Therapist can help.

Contributing Athletic Therapist
Glenn Burke


Glenn is the Clinical Director and Athletic Therapist at Advanced Physiotherapy & Sports Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the former medical manager of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team and was an AT with the Canadian Football League. Glenn is a hockey dad to two boys and husband to a very understanding wife!