Green ache-rs: pain-free spring gardening
It's spring, and for those who do their own gardening, it's time to dig, haul, prune, trim, mulch, plant, and weed - usually all in the same weekend. While there's that satisfying feeling when it's done, there's often an accompanying ache in the lower back, a twinge between the shoulder blades, or a wrist that just doesn't bend freely anymore.
Larry Greenberg and Deborah Shipkin, the husband-and-wife partnership that is Greenberg Physical and Hand Therapy Associates in West Tisbury, report a dramatic rise in the number of patients they see each spring.
"The phone starts ringing off the hook right after Memorial Day," Ms. Shipkin says. "It's often the people who spend hours packing up their primary homes, then drive a long distance, unpack, and try to set up their whole yard in a day or two."
Gardening is one of the fastest growing outdoor leisure activities in the country, so it's no surprise that there's an increase in the number of gardening related injuries. A little planning, Mr. Greenberg and Ms. Shipkin suggest, can go a long way toward avoiding aches and pains.
Most gardening injuries are repetitive strain injuries from tasks such as raking, pruning, or weeding. Because even physically fit gardeners have not trained their bodies to prepare for these specific motions, they risk injury as a result of spending too many hours engaged in a single task.
According to Mr. Greenberg and Ms. Shipkin, the most common injuries they treat include pain and inflammation in the back, hand, wrist, knees, and neck.
"The body normally heals micro-tears - tiny tears that occur overnight from physical stress," Mr. Greenberg explains. "Gardening can put more stress on the body than it can repair naturally."
Gardeners 40 and older are most often injured because, as Ms. Shipkin explains, "They are often already suffering from arthritis or an existing injury that predisposes them to further damage."
Nina Bramhall, a professional photographer and avid gardener and a tennis player, who has lived on Martha's Vineyard for more than 18 years, spent much of last summer sidelined from her two favorite pastimes. Her elbow was sore from a winter of competitive tennis in Florida, so when she returned to her West Tisbury home in June and attacked the weeds with reckless determination, she found herself in acute pain.
"Looking back, I think it was the yanking up motion that did me in," she admits. "I was really extending my arm to clip rose bushes on a ladder. I felt a couple of shooting pains but kept going anyway."