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Good digging technique when gardening can significantly reduce joint pain

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Gardeners who have a bad posture when digging could be putting as much as double the load on their joints, leaving them susceptible to chronic injuries.

The finding comes from a study by Coventry University and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), published in the journal HortTechnology.

Researchers employed 3D optical tracking equipment usually used in the production of animated Hollywood films and in advanced hospital laboratories to map the movement of gardeners while digging. They then measured the loads imposed on the body’s joints, bones and muscles.

The results showed that loads in the lumbar region of the back — where many gardeners complain of aches and pains — could be increased by half as much again with a bad posture. The shoulders were even more sensitive, with more than double the load generated if a bad posture was used.

Large loads at the joints are associated with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

The researchers found that good gardening practice involves using a regular, repetitive technique rather than erratic movements. A good technique was found to have minimal back bend and large knee bend, whereas a bad posture was characterised by large forward bending, stretching limbs and uncontrolled motion.

Dr Paul Alexander, head of horticultural and environmental science at the RHS, commented: “Digging is one of the more common gardening practices — whether it be for planting trees, shovelling soil or turning compost — yet we tend to rely upon common sense which can lead to gardeners complaining of aches and pains. Our findings will help us ensure that both amateurs and professionals stay digging for longer; avoiding injury, and improving efficiency.”