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Back Up Plan: Stretching & Core Exercise Tips

Mar 18, 2013 09:15AM ● Published by Lisa Drake

By Clint Dacus, D.C.

As springtime approaches, weather warms up and leaves turn green, many people will spend more time outside planting bulbs, mowing the lawn and pulling weeds. Gardening can provide a great workout, but with all the bending, twisting, reaching and pulling, your body may not be ready for exercise of the garden variety.

Gardening can be enjoyable, but it is important to stretch your muscles before reaching for your gardening tools. The back, upper legs, shoulders and wrists are all major muscle groups affected when using your green thumb.

“A warm-up and cool-down period is as important in gardening as it is for any other physical activity," says Dr. Scott Bautch of the American Chiropractic Association's (ACA) Council on Occupational Health. "Performing simple stretches during these periods will help alleviate injuries, pain and stiffness."

To make gardening as fun and enjoyable as possible, it is important to prepare your body for this type of physical activity. The following stretches will help to alleviate muscle pain after a day spent in your garden.


Garden Fitness Stretches

Before stretching for any activity, breathe in and out, slowly and rhythmically; do not bounce or jerk your body, and stretch as far and as comfortably as you can. Do not follow the no pain, no gain rule. Stretching should not be painful.

While sitting, prop your heel on a stool or step, keeping the knees straight. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, or the hamstring muscle. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Do this once more and repeat with the other leg.

Stand up, balance yourself and grab the front of your ankle from behind. Pull your heel towards your buttocks and hold the position for 15 seconds. Do this again and repeat with the other leg.

While standing, weave your fingers together above your head with the palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds, then to the other. Repeat this stretch three times.

Do the "Hug your best friend." Wrap your arms around yourself and rotate to one side, stretching as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for 10 seconds and reverse, repeating two or three times.

You should be aware of your body technique, body form and correct posture while gardening. Kneel, don't bend, and alternate your stance and movements as often as possible to keep the muscles and body balanced.

If you already feel muscle aches and pains and did not complete the warm-up and cool-down stretches, there are ways to alleviate the discomfort. Apply a cold pack on the area of pain for the first 48 hours or apply a heat pack after 48 hours, and consider chiropractic care.


Get To The Core

The best way to fight the pain, emotional stress and missed work that may accompany a spinal problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The following tips will help you identify and eliminate "spinal stressors" and incorporate spinal health into your daily routine.

Core training is a no-longer-new catchphrase on the fitness landscape. The concept of core fitness, by now, has been promoted by every Pilates school, yoga center and chain of fitness clubs around the world. Many doctors, including chiropractors, physiatrists, orthopedists and even cardiologists, emphasize the importance of core training with their patients. Practically every physical therapist and personal trainer has learned a variety of core exercises to use with their clients. Core fitness has become an advertising buzzword, helping to sell all kinds of health-related products. The overall result is raised awareness of the importance of core strength and the opportunity to engage in a critically important form of healthy exercise.

What exactly is the "core" and what are you training when you train it? Your core muscles are your four abdominal muscle groups - the transversus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques and rectus abdominis. Back muscles, too, are included in the core group - specifically the erector spinae, longissimus thoracis and multifidus. The importance of the core muscles is their ability to provide a "center" or focus for the physical work your body is doing. If your core is not fit other muscles will have to take over, leading to the likelihood of strains, sprains and other injuries. Strong abdominal muscles help stabilize the trunk and unload the lumbar spine stress.

Why do we need core fitness today? More and more of our work involves sitting down. We stare at computer screens for eight hours a day. Instead of doing physical work such as farming or building, we type on a keyboard and talk on a cell phone. The long-term result is that muscles, tendons and ligaments lose their integrity. Tight neck muscles, tight lower back muscles and weak abdominal muscles are the result, and these issues lead to more serious problems such as chronic headaches, cardiovascular stress, impaired digestion and depression. We need fitness activities that start building us back up again, and the right place to start is at the center - by engaging in core fitness.

The best thing about core fitness is that you don't need any equipment. You could get a mat and an exercise ball, but those items are optional. Learn a few core exercises and begin to do them several times a week. You'll soon begin to notice that you feel better, in general, you have more energy, you're sleeping better, and your mood is improving all due to a few squats, a few planks and a few push-ups. That's a pretty good deal.


Back-Saving Tips

The American Chiropractic Association suggests the following do's and don'ts for chores and relaxation:

  • When you wash dishes, open the cabinet beneath the sink, bend one knee and put your foot on the shelf under the sink. Lean against the counter so some of your weight is supported in front.
  • When ironing, raise one foot a bit. Place it on a small stool or a book to take some strain off your back.
  • To vacuum, use a "fencer's stance." Put all your weight on one foot, then step forward and back with the other foot as you push the vacuum forward and back. Use the back foot as a pivot when you turn.
  • While talking on the phone, don't cradle the phone between your ear and shoulder. That can lock up the spinal joints in the neck and upper back and cause pain. Instead, hold the phone with your hand or use the speakerphone.
  • While watching television or relaxing, don't use the sofa arm as a pillow. The angle is much too sharp for your neck.
  • Use a cold pack if your back begins to hurt. Wrap an ice pack in a towel moistened with warm water. The warmth gives way to gradual cold, which likely will alleviate the discomfort. (No ice? Try frozen veggies instead.)
  • If pain persists for more than a day or if you experience numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms or legs, see a doctor of chiropractic. A doctor of chiropractic is an expert in spinal health and can help identify and treat your problem.

Clint Dacus, D.C. is owner of 
True Balance Chiropractic & Physical Therapy at 2771 E. Broad St., Ste. 211 in Mansfield. Contact him at 682-518-6263.

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