Taking the Ache out of Gardening Joy


You know how it feels, the sun has come out, you have got stuck into those jobs in the garden and before you realise, many hours have passed.

Then, the following day, the familiar back ache and stiffness and we tell ourselves for the umpteenth time that we need to pace ourselves when we’re gardening, take regular breaks and stretch.

Here is how to prepare for gardening and prevent and relieve the stiffness and aching.

All gardeners complain of aches and pains after gardening at one time or another. It is usually mild to moderate but can exacerbate and lead to chronic or repeated pain. And it isn’t just your back, it can affect many areas, including knees, hips, shoulders, neck, wrists and fingers.

When I quizzed my Physiopilates members who are keen gardeners about back pain and stiffness, they all revealed that they continuously do more in the garden than they had planned. They reported the most common repercussion they experience is lower back pain and stiffness. This can last for a few days, preventing them or hampering them doing more gardening in the days that follow. 

When asked what helps, they replied the PhysioPilates routines with me made a significant difference to stiffness and discomfort and regular practice can have them back in the garden the next day.




We should never underestimate the strain on your body when gardening, it’s quite the workout and as such our bodies need to be ready.

Gardening works all major groups builds strength and burns calories similar to walking or cycling. We stretch, bend, lift, pull and push. 

Back pain and stiffness after gardening is a result of prolonged static positions for long periods of time, most commonly a forward bend posture. Other factors are overexertion with lifting, pulling and pushing and prolonged knee flexion.

Studies rate gardening tasks in 3 levels of intensity. Sowing seeds and hand or near distance weeding is rated as low intensity exercise. Digging, raking and low height harvesting is rated as moderate intensity exercise. Transplanting plants, far distance weeding and high height harvesting is rated up there with high intensity, a very strong workout!

The good news is there are so many positives to gardening despite the results we yield with our green fingers. It improves muscle strength and flexibility as well as balance. Concentration and focus benefit and it helps reduce stress and anxiety.


So, what can we do to help ease the aches and stiffness and prevent them hampering our outdoor efforts?

I suggest viewing gardening as any other form of exercise and warm up and mobilise before, pause for regular change of position during and stretch afterwards using a rest position to re-boot and re-balance our bodies.

Here’s how you do it.

Take it slowly, don’t work into any pain and consult your health practitioner if you are unsure of your ability to do these exercises.

Warm up before: prepare for the exertion ahead by mobilising your body. 

Stand tall with a wide, comfortable stance for these 3 movements.

1.    Reach your arms forward, overhead, and then circle them back to your side. Repeat 5 times then another 5 times starting with your arms moving behind you. Go slowly, breathe easy and focus on the feeling of lifting through your waist. Splay, stretch and wriggle your fingers and thumbs as you move.
2.    With your arms down by your side, slide one hand down the side of the same leg, reaching the other arm overhead if this feels good. Repeat 5 times to each side. Go slowly and focus on easing your spine into a side stretch and feeling taller each time you return upright.
3.    With your arms across your chest, or out in a T position, turn your head to look over 1 shoulder and take a comfortable twist to the side. Alternate direction up to 5 times each way. No forceful movements, slow and smooth and smile as you turn.


While you garden, take a pause and change position.

1.    Breathe deeply, move around, a few steps forward and to the side. 
2.    Look up and shrug your shoulders to the sky. Look down and squeeze your shoulders down and back.
3.      The familiar “hands in lower back and lean back” stretch is a good one to do with a wide stance and a deep breath in, long and slow breath out.


After, stretch and use a rest position.

1.    A wonderful position to use is lying down on your back with your legs bent and your lower legs resting on a chair or a gym ball if you have one. Support your head with a cushion and lie on a mat or folded towel. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply and focus on a sense of heaviness through the parts of your body that are in contact with the floor and the chair, allowing space for any discomfort to dissipate.
2.    Lie with your knees bent and your feet on the floor, feet and knees together. Allow your legs to roll to one side and your head to roll in in the opposite direction. Go slowly, move with ease as you repeat up to 5 times each way.
3.    Rollover onto your front. Take your legs out slightly wider than your hips and bend you elbows, bringing your forearms and hands either side of your head. Gently lift your chest and head from the floor, feel your spine long and strong. You can raise your forearms if that feel comfortable to raise a little higher. Repeat up to 5 times. Return to sitting or standing slowly and focus on how released and relaxed you feel.


Other tips:

Kneel don’t lean and try half kneeling, alternating which leg is in front. 

Use a mat to kneel on.

Use your wheelbarrow to carry heavier loads safely and use a good lifting technique.

Be wary of holding both your arms above your head for prolonged periods of time as it can aggravate the muscles in your neck.

Vary your jobs, changing every half hour or so between tasks.


Now, put down your trowel, stand, stretch and watch your garden bloom without the aches and pains.

You can find more information on Julia’s PhysioPilates membership at: www.physiopilates.co.uk.