How to pull weeds, and not your back

How to pull weeds, and not your back


Mike Boyd and his wife, Indie Bobzien, enjoy growing fresh vegetables in the garden of their Rapid City home.

“There’s nothing like it,” Mike said of their garden that has zucchini, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, basil, peppers, peas, carrots and green beans.

Several times a week, Mike, Indie and their three sons: Zaydin, 5, Kasiah, 7, and Jaiden, 13, keep busy caring for their crop.

Though they enjoy working in their garden and the delicious yield that it produces, Mike and Indie realize that gardening involves extensive bending, which can put strain on the back.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes.

Therefore, to avoid injury, Mike and Indie take precaution while working in their garden.

Indie, who weeds at least twice a week, said she prefers squatting or kneeling on her knees to clip her weeds instead of constantly bending over and pulling them.

“I think that strains your back,” Indie said. “We have big scissors so we’re not pulling — we are cutting, we are snipping the weeds.”

Mike, who says he broke a disc in his back 15 years ago after lifting something that was too heavy, prefers kneeling on one knee or using a gardening tool, such as a hoe, to avoid straining his back.

Indie and Mike are on the right path.

According Dr. Jeff Burns of Parkside Chiropractic in Rapid City, proper body mechanics is key.

“We have had a lot of people coming in this spring and summer because of all the wetness and great rain that we’re getting, gardens are full of weeds and I think the worst thing that people do — they do such a prolonged pulling of weeds where they’re bending over at their waist,” Burns said. “They really hurt their muscles and cause a lot of lower back pain.”

Burns recommends that gardeners treat gardening like any physical activity by warming up beforehand. In addition, he recommends using padding.

“Very often, if somebody has a low back that gives them trouble like chronic low back condition, I recommend that they get a garden pad or a knee pad where they actually get down low and pull weeds or do their gardening that way. So these knee pads are really good and you can even have handles to help you get up,” Burns said.

Because form is important, Burns cautions that “weeding is just like lifting something heavy off of the ground.”

“Pulling weeds while bent over is very similar to lifting with straight legs,” Burns said. “It can put stress into the low back. So once again, good body mechanics, by bending your knees or using a knee pad, helps to reduce the low back pain.”

Dividing the amount of time spent on gardening tasks also helps.

“Don’t weed for an hour,” Burns suggests. “That will cause a lot of overuse of the muscles and a lot of back pain, so avoid bending over at the waist with straight legs and spray the garden down with a lot of water, which helps those weeds to come up easier.”

Lastly, if you have chronic back pain, Burns recommends using raised flower beds or raised vegetable gardens to avoid prolonged bending.

Luckily Mike and Indie have not injured their backs. They are also grateful that they’re able to grow a garden for the second year. They’re especially happy that their three sons also enjoy gardening.

“They helped plant seeds and they love to water,” Indie laughs. “They’ll spray everything until it’s all wet.”

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