Back problems and gardening

gardenblueJuly 12, 2005

Hi! Am new to gardenweb, and found this topic. I am a nurse, and have had back problems off and on for years. Have been off work for 3 weeks, and am feeling discouraged about being able to garden and still keep my job. I LOVE gardening, and have several garden areas in my yard. Am trying more containers this year, but I have a lot of maintainence with my perennials, etc. I am single, and can't depend on family to help. I would appreciate suggestions on how to ease back strain. I use a garden buddy scooter and a 5 gallon bucket with seat to sit on. Yet I still have to reach and bend. Am working on exercises for abs, back and thighs that physical therapist has had me doing. Any suggestions for long handled pruners, grass clippers, etc. Or how to apply Round up type products with out bending over? Thanks for any ideas!

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I noticed the other day that when I lean over from the bench I usually use that a disk in my back slipped slightly out of place; then my back bothered me for several days.

It seemed to be connected with both the height of the stool and the reaching to the side to pick up gallon containers of soil to complete plantings.

If there was a pivoting chair with wheels, but lower, to use in the garden I think it would be a great help.

Some of the office supply stores have periodic sales of quite inexpensive office chairs; if nothing can be found in garden shops maybe something like that would be helpful to you.

(I am very fond of rolling office chairs because I use one in the kitchen; however, I need mine to be higher than it is)

Also, I highly recommend the use of a mattock--ie a tool with a small hoelike cutter on one side and prongs on the other. The head is of cast metal and one good swing downward can get a better start on a small perennial planting hole than more lightweight tools; also, the lever principle is enhanced by the weight of the mattock head.

Hopefully you have a good chiropractor; sounds like you have both a physically demanding job and a physically demanding hobby...maybe it's time to become an administrator!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2005 at 2:48AM
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Hi Gardenblue, this thread is kind of old but I still hope you'll see this.

I too have ruptured disks and also neck muscle problems and I too love gardening.

I've found the best way to garden is to first set your time allotment. No matter how you feel, if 20 minutes is your limit - stick to it. When you get to moving around and things seem to loosen up, you'll naturally feel like you can go on for a much longer time - but don't because you'll suffer later or the next day. My second suggestion is to sit on the ground and crawl around. It's the best exercise for your back. Sitting on a little stool, or chair, or small rolling cart will aggrevate your spine as you stretch out to pull those weeds. Finally, do your gardening slowly, don't rush, use tools as much as possible and save your strength.

I'm down here in Florida and am gardening year-round. I try am design my garden with my back in mind. More perreniels - annuals take more work. Less grass - no more mowing. Lot's of mulch - less weeds. Etc, etc. etc. Just think ahead before you plant anything and make it as easy on your back as possible.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2005 at 8:53PM
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ljrmiller(z7 NV)

I'm not so badly off, but when I get back pain from gardening (which is about every time I garden, because I'm too stupid to moderate my activity), I found the best way to prevent acute pain and also to relieve pain is to go for a 15-30 minute walk right after gardening (at whatever pace is comfortable) and again the next day. It might not help a ground-down spine or disk injuries, but it sure relaxes what would be painfully tight lower back muscles. I also do part of the walk waggling my hips from side to side--seems to help with the loosening even if it looks doofus or raunchy.

I don't suggest crawling around on your hands and knees, at least not to the extent that I crawl around. Crawling in the garden is probably THE single best exercise for tightening your butt. As in by the time bulb-planting season ends, my butt feels like I'm sitting on rocks even when I'm standing up. As in my butt muscles are so tight that I very nearly bent the needle on an intramuscular injection in that area, and I certainly wasn't "tensed up" at the time.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 6:45PM
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I've heard that it isn't really the bending that is so bad, it is the combination move of bend and twist.

Of course, I don't really know when I'm doing that......
I should be more aware.

I had been doing some real heavy work. Would you believe I am pick axing rock?

Then, last week, we had a freeze here in Texas. I had to quick cover my plants. I think covering them hurt more than pick axing.

Then, yesterday, I was trying to work with the leaf blower...I was trying to get the leaves that my boys raked into the vacuum, so they would be chopped up. I placed the thing level with my garbage cans, but it just wasn't cooperating, so the consant fiddling with it really aggrevated my back.

I decided to go back to pick axing.

Go figure, I've had back problems for 20 years.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 8:59PM
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julieyankfan(z9FL Pasco Cty.)

You hit 2 important things - set a time limit and don't twist!

I have a 3 level fusion and possibly 2 more discs are going. The best way for me to do anything is to kneel on one or both knees. I have one of those garden benches that you can turn upside-down and kneel on and push on it to get up. I don't like to sit on the ground here in Fla because you never know what is sitting there with you!!!LOL

    Bookmark   January 30, 2006 at 10:06PM
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Hi, I'm new on this forum, but had back surgery last year. Just a laminectomy, but I have herniated discs in both my back and neck, degenerative disc disease, and osteoarthritis. Ain't gonna get much better.

I have the garden bench, too. One for the front yard, and one for the backyard, so I don't have to carry one back and forth. They are great. I do have to bend, but my problem is getting up off the ground easily. I just can't do it anymore. I have no strength in my legs.

Also, when planting, I tend to scoot around in the yard and dig with my small trowel, rather than a shovel. It's easier on me. I am sure I do a lot of things wrong. I do take a lot of breaks. I try to stretch before going out to work, but I do forget sometimes - a lot of times.

Getting old is just not too much fun. But gardening is! LOL!


    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 8:04PM
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julieyankfan(z9FL Pasco Cty.)

Hi Susan! I'm only 46, but my doctor said my back is closer to 70. What makes it worse is that I'm a Type A personality. Always used to be going and going, so this sitting is killing me. I'd give anything to get back to work and have money again. Plus work gives you a rhythm in your life. I don't know what I'd do without my garden. My husband made a 4' deep bed all along the back of the house and a small island bed on the side. The front of the house has a small garden in front of the door where he put his fountain and then I put annuals and one or two perrenials. This is manageable for me and I can walk outside and weed or prune for a couple of minutes whenever I feel like it.

Please be good to your back so it lasts many more years. If I had known that I had the degenerative disc thing before it got so bad, I would have taken it a lot easier. Have you tried bike riding to strenthen your legs or swimming? Both are easier for me than walking. I can't get any power into my walk since the surgery, if you know what I mean. I feel like the muscles in my back are too stiff.

Anyway, another good tool is the Grabber. It's that thing you can get at Walgreens, I think they call it a Gopher, and you squeeze the handle and the little suction cups at the bottom pick up stuff for you. It's a lifesaver.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 10:55AM
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compost_hugger_nancy(z4/5 NES MI)

I would suggest raised beds no wider than you can stretch your 3-4' wide! This way you don't pull on your back.

Also suggest raised beds with equalized distance spacing. Or simply taller things in center growing vertical on trellis.

When I have to get lower I use one of those old "hot seats" hunters use.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2006 at 8:16AM
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maineman(z5a ME)


"I grow 100 sweet corn in a 3'x 6' space. Better yet it only takes 3 or four liters to water them daily."

The HTML in your message got messed up due to an incomplete Photobucket URL for your image source.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2006 at 12:49AM
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madmouser(7 TN)

I have knee problems rather than back problems. I've been using a mechanic's stool in the garden. It's smaller and lower version of the sort of stool a doctor uses. Mechanics use it for working on cars.
It swivels and rolls and is height adjustable. I got mine for $25. There are various grades available, some have backs. I also use mine when I have to work on stuff down low around the house. Or moving things around. Or painting stuff. It's a handy little thing.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 3:04PM
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I too am a new member but have been enjoying reading these forums for quite some time. I have always been an avid gardener but fell in the shower a few years ago and tore my hamstring and now have 3 bulging discs each in neck and lower back. Fall also caused trauma to the caratid artery and caused 4 mild TIA's. I have so much pain trying to stand or walk, sitting is ok though. I like the thought of a rolling stool. Where do you purchase a mechanics stool? My garden has been neglected so badly in the last two years, but I am determined to try a little each day. It is very motivating to hear others trying as well.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 6:49PM
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TwoMonths(So Calif)

I have back problems and knee problems also. This year I am planing a raised garden....not just the one on top of ground, but one that is higher...such as almost table height so I can ready and not bend. I have an old bathtub chair that I am putting an old trunk bottom on top. I have drilled holes to allow drainage. I also have an old garden bench I made from a heavy bunk bed that is not needed. I have a wooden trunk on it. I have drilled drainage holes. I am putting at edge of patio so I can weed and harvest my veggies as needed. I am using older dirt on bottom and then a layer of compost type dirt. I am gona get good dirt for the top layer. I understand that I need at least 8 plus inches to grow most crops. I am doing garlic, onions, radishes, lettuce, carrots, beans (growing up a wire trellis or an oldchain link gate)and such. I also am going to use an old bookshelf and reinforce the back ifnecessary. I will add old table legs on it to raise it up. As long as I can reach the middle of the garden without bending a lot, it should work. I have researched and see there are lots of raised or higher bed gardens mentioned online with a lot of pictured beds.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 10:41PM
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My husband owns a custom cabinet shop and he came to me about all the "extra" high quality wood he discards (such as red cedar, red oak, etc.) He wants to make table-height gardens for people in wheelchairs or those with bad backs (this idea stemmed from my elderly parents who want to garden but cannot do so on the ground). His initial drafting has produced beautiful gardens that can be wheelchair height or standing height with lifting mechanisms on the side that can lift pots, bags, etc. from the ground to the table top. It's quite incredible, really. How on earth would we market this product though? We are a Mom & Pop shop (literally) in a small town in Texas. I know there must be a need for them.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 3:17PM
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This is a common problem to all gardeners. If you spend a lot of time in the garden and lifting heavy objects, you will have back and knee pain. One of the most popular positions for extended weeding sessions is sitting on a bucket or stool.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 2:27PM
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Hi.. I know this is an old post, and I'm new here..but I'm sure this is something that is always relevant to someone. I have back/knee/neck issues--and i have a nice stool that works well--I got it at Home Depot-- several years ago--hopefully they still have it and it was cheap and is adjustable and rocks & pivots--so very handy. here is what it looks like:

Also-- I only do a little at a time--and then I stop. What happens is my first time or two out for the season I over do it and am so sore! So I try after that point to just do very little each day til I feel better. Also make sure to choose things that don't need a lot of fussing to plant and use mulch! :)

Today I put in 3 plants and that's pretty pathetic--but its OK.

My garden is a blessing to me, even though it is painful.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 8:23PM
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Because many years ago I lifted a bag of dirt, equal to my own weight, I managed to really screw up my back. For years I have been careful and in pain, different levels of pain but in pain never-the-less! About 2 weeks ago at a doctor's office I heard this woman tell another how she got rid of excruciating pain in her lower back. I went home and, don't you know, a few days later I woke up with a back pain and, I remembered! I sat (carefully) at the edge of the bed, at the corner or the mattress where is stiffer, and with my back straight I rocked from side to side (like a clock pendulum) for about 5 minutes AND THE PAIN WAS GONE! I could not believe it and I hate the fact that I don't know her so I can ask more questions but she did say something about Yoga and stretching! Don't quote me on the Yoga part because I am not 100% sure of it but try the rocking part and go talk to a Yoga instructor see what they know. I for one, don't have the money for Yoga, but every time my back hurts that is what I do: 5 min rocking at the edge of my bed!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 4:39PM
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I will NOT give up my garden, it is too much a lifesaver. Thank you all for your brilliant ideas and upbeat tone. I don't feel so alone!

As for the yoga, check the senior centers. Even though I'm not a senior, that type of easy on the joints stuff is better by far than the ridiculous and expensive physical therapy.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 10:47AM
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Wanted a raised garden. My wife gave me this idea. Will have 10 beds when I finish building. 32" high.
Will be growing vegies and herbs..........Steve.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:24PM
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Having problem posting pic.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:40PM
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Vikki(7b / 8)

About the raised garden, what kind of soil do you use? It would cost a fortune to use potting soil, but there aren't any worms etc. in it to help if using regular garden soil. Do you just fertilize more frequently? I've been thinking about trying this because of knee and back problems (like most people here). I hate it when my body gets in the way of my life!! But what ja gonna do about it?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 2:57PM
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I put mulch down on a 25'x30' area. Then I but an electric fence around this area to keep out the deer. I constructed 10 of the frames with the half barrels. The soil is 1/3 peat moss,1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. This is suppose to be the perfect veggie garden combo. Was a lot cheaper to make, than buy already in a bag( The Sq. Foot Gardener recipe). Have a water meter and it has shown to keep in the good range for several days(less watering). Put mulch in the planters with the blueberries, blackberries,lime tree and the orange tree.Don't need to fert. when first planted. Wait for about 20 days before applying any fert.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 9:51PM
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ellenr22 - NJ - Zone 6b/7a

I would love to find what the poster linked to here, but couldn't find it.
This is an excellent thread and encouraging. My first thot when I developed this condition in my leg was - how am I gonna garden? But, like others on this thread, I AM, maybe less than before, maybe with some challenges, but for sure I WILL garden. Today finally sowed 12 containers. Feel exhausted but happy.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 3:08PM
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If you are suffering from back problem for longer time then you can use memory foam mattresses which are more soft and comfortable.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 4:45AM
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ifraser25(z11 Brazil)

Oh my, no wonder this thread keeps running!

I find the best way to avoid back problems is use your hands and knees a lot! Of course you can't dig and you will have to get someone else to do that, but it's amazing what you discover when your eyes are only a foot above the soil....Another tip you might find useful for this method of operating is: make some knee pads!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 5:32PM
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garden_views(7a Mid-Atlantic)

An injury a few years ago to my back, hip, and knees restricts me from most gardening tasks. I scaled back gardening and started using my version of a raised garden. I purchased large plastic planters that straddle the fence. In them, I grow bush green beans, peas, radishes, and lettuce. Works great for me. The only drawback (if you want to call it that) is that the containers need watering more frequently than ground-planted veggies.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 10:36AM
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