beat back backache

We gardeners are prone to the odd bout of backache, only natural given the physicality of the hobby/occupation we enjoy. And sometimes it is a mere mild strain that can be walked off or which dissipates within minutes. Other times it is a pull or overworking that requires a change of activity and some heat to remedy. The ache can signify a more pronounced injury (slipped discs, torn ligaments etc.) that will require recuperation and the attention of a medical professional.

Lumbar/Lower back pain is certainly the commonest type of backache that gardeners suffer. That region is the hinge of the majority of our gardening activities and as such prone to experience overuse and strain, thus triggering tension and stiffness as a defence mechanism or warning sign and if unheeded or not noticed in the fervour of getting the last of the bulbs in, it slips easily over that line into soreness and then on to definite pain. The lumbar region itself is hinged by five vertebrae that act to support the entire weight of your upper body. That weight is added to any incorrect postural stance when strimming, pruning roses or digging over and it compounds strain when you misadventure into the realm of bending awkwardly or lifting incorrectly. Ergonomic posture is vital to avoid backache becoming a regular feature of your gardening activities.

Upper and middle back pain is rarer, or at least rarely to do with action injuries (bending awkwardly or lifting incorrectly) that gardeners might contribute towards. The vertebrae here, known as the thoracic vertebrae are not required to move and flex as the lumbar vertebrae do and the ache which can range from dulled stiffness to a sharp or burning sensation is more likely a result of a pinched nerve or referred lung or rib pain. That said poor task-posture can trigger upper and middle back pain so when trimming the top of a hedge or similar chore, do try to keep your back as straight as possible, always balance your weight evenly on both feet and take frequent breaks in activity.

First response: Depending upon the depth of pain, a rub to flush some blood into the muscle involved is ideal and a ‘walk-off’ may just do the trick. But if inflamed and walking it off is not an option then an ice pack will be required to reduce swelling and numb pain. Over the counter pain relief (aspirin, ibuprofen etc.) are the norm.

Top tip: When applying an ice pack always wrap it in a towel or cloth, any barrier to direct skin contact and never use for more than 20mines at a time. Breaks of 30-45mins between icing periods are advised. Cold therapy only works on day one so if pain/ache still there next day, utilizing heat packs or counterirritant salves can provide relief.

Garden aid: Many garden plants can be utilized as natural pain relief in tea and tincture form including angelica, bay, birch, lavender, motherwort, peppermint, skullcap, St. John’s wort, valerian and of course willow bark (the original aspirin). But also many over the counter creams and rubs for back pain contain methyl salicylates from the mint family or directly employ arnica, eucalyptus, rosemary or wintergreen.


Quick relief quick salve – for backache, sciatica, tired limbs and sore muscles

Cayenne spice stimulates endorphin production when taken internally but also to a degree when absorbed through skin. Topically it is analgesic and anti-inflammatory – Simply mix a teaspoon of it with a teaspoon of ground ginger, a teaspoon of dried mint (the latter two also beneficial to pain relief and toxin flushing) with 2 tablespoons of vodka/brandy and a tablespoon spoon of petroleum jelly or aqueous solution (or alternate base of Shea butter or coconut oil). I warm the spoon in boiling water to help slightly melt and blend all the ingredients – Mix well and smear over painful site. The generated heat and pain modifying properties offer relief, especially beneficial after initial cold therapy. You can boost the potency of this recipe by substituting the alcohol content with tincture of analgesic herbs – try one or combo of arnica, wintergreen, feverfew.

All of the other gardeners maladies are covered in http://www.omahonys.ie/v2/r_prod_info.php?p=395265

About The Holistic Gardener

I am a horticulturalist and holistic practitioner interested in how the garden and engagement with nature facilitates full potential living and therapeutic benefits.
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