Healthy Back Tips

July 2005

Gardening advice - The Hip Hinging Concept

Bending is an unavoidable part of yardwork activity that commonly produces low back pain or soreness. We probably underestimate the number of times the low back bends during two hours of gardening work. Most gardeners also sustain low back bending positions for prolonged periods of time. The histories behind low back pain episodes related to outside yard activities frequently heard by our physical therapists go something like this: "I was pruning some bushes" or "I just raked the backyard" or "All I did was plant flowers."

Although bending is necessary for all of these tasks, how we bend is controllable. We are all taught to bend our legs instead of our back, but to do this in a way to decrease stress on the low back requires a change in motor skills that are not typical habits for most people.



The instruction most often given by our physical therapists to reduce bending stress in the low back is to maintain your normal low back curve when bending forward by hip hinging. Hip hinging requires pushing your rear end back while you incline your trunk forward. If done properly, your low back curve will be maintained and you feel the work being done in your legs thereby minimizing bending stress on the lumbar spine. By hip hinging each time you bend, you reduce the cumulative effects of repeated bending on the low back which can result in low back fatigue and subsequent muscle soreness or spinal pain. The photos illustrate the incorrect, yet common back bending method used by most gardeners and the recommended hip hinging strategy, which maintains the low back curve and minimizes low back stress. Hopefully the pictures will help you, but what helps most is to practice - particularly in front of a mirror.