Gardening and Low Back Pain: How to Prevent Back Pain When Gardening


With plenty of sunny days to look forward to, gardening can be a great way to get exercise, relieve stress, and enjoy the sunshine. However, without the correct approach, gardening can trigger much-unwanted back pain. Just over the past week, React physical therapists noticed an alarming trend of patients reporting back pain flare-ups directly from gardening. Although concerning, we are not recommending you pack away your spades and shears. In fact, we encourage the activity… when done safely. The following article lists the reasons low back pain occurs when gardening and provides recommendations, exercises, and stretches to prevent and alleviate pain.

Why does gardening cause back pain and what can one do about it?

1. Deconditioned:

Once the weather begins to clear, it can be tempting to accelerate right into outdoor activities like gardening. However, if you tend to be more sedentary in the winter, it’s important to condition your body for all the bending, lifting, pulling, and twisting associated with gardening. To prevent straining yourself, make sure to start off slow and build up to gardening for longer periods of time. For example, start off gardening for 30 minutes, then progress to an hour, then to 1.5 hours, etc. Additionally, proper exercise focused on core and glut strengthening can prepare your body for outdoor activities like gardening.

2. Poor posture/movement:

One of the leading causes of back pain is poor movement patterns and posture. A common pattern we see in gardeners is excessive bending at the spine. Doing so significantly increases the stress in your spinal discs and muscles and may lead to chronic low back pain. Proper use of your hips and knees is essential for reducing the load on your back. In addition, it is crucial to change positions over a long period of time. For example, if you are squatting for a few minutes, try switching to a half-kneeling position. The hip hinge, squat and half-kneeling positions are important to utilize when gardening to avoid straining your low back. In the first two videos, these three movements and positions are discussed.

3. Not taking enough breaks:

Continuing to bend over, carry dirt/water, pull weeds, etc can be a lot of work for your body, especially your low back. Even if you’re able to power through for several hours without issue, pain may very likely creep in later that day or the next. Taking short water and stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes will give your muscles and joints time to recover. Below are a few stretches that you can perform during your breaks and after gardening to loosen up your low back muscles, including lumbar extension, piriformis stretch, and a QL stretch.

Don’t let back pain prevent you from gardening.

Conditioning your body, taking breaks, stretching, and adopting better movement strategies will ensure a pain-free gardening experience. If you are experiencing pain from gardening or pain is preventing you from gardening, contact your nearest React physical therapist today!


-Jim McDermott SPT