Green Thumbs with a Sore Back

BEHIND-THE-SCENES with Chris Beltran of Atlantic Physical Therapy Center

Springtime and the gardening is easy – until back pain strikes. How to reduce or avoid back fatigue and related aches and pains? According to Chris Beltran, physical therapist at Atlantic Physical Therapy Center (APTC), it’s not the weight of the soil you’re digging up, it is the fact that our bodies just aren’t designed to twist and turn while holding gardening equipment for an extended period of time.

How to reduce or avoid back fatigue and related aches and pains? Chris recommends:

Warm Up

Generate some gentle heat in the muscles you’ll be using through squatting, stretching and loosening up tendons:

  • Squat, keeping your back straight, tightening abs and maintaining your weight in your heels versus toes; repeat 8 times
  • Sit on the ground, tuck in your left heel (like you’re sitting cross-legged) and extend your right leg straight. Now, lean back, with your hands behind you. Keep in position for 30 seconds and repeat with other leg; do four sets
  • Touch the floor, your toes or ankles by flexing at your waist while bending slightly at the knees. Maintain that gently position for 30 seconds

Be Mindful of your Movements

  • Bend from your hips, not your back
  • Squat or kneel when planting or weeding for comfort and use a cushion or knee pads instead of standing
  • Lift with your legs – start from a crouching position with your legs bent and your back straight
  • Keep your movements smooth and avoid any sudden twisting or reaching motions.
  • Keep objects close to your body when lifting.

Pace Yourself

  • Set readily achievable goals
  • Take breaks and stretch
  • Switch up gardening activities to avoid muscle exhaustion
  • Keep hydrated
  • Reduce the weight you’re carrying; lift one-half of the bag of fertilizer; use one jug of water instead of two; and so on.
  • Ask for help when something is too heavy.

Use Equipment to Ease the Burden

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Riding mower
  • Ergonomically-designed rakes and shovels
  • Cushioned kneelers with handles
  • A stool or chair


  • Take a gentle walk while keeping back straight
  • Have a warm bath with Epsom salts or take a shower

Stop by Atlantic Physical Therapy Center at Howell Plaza Shopping Center for a free screening.

For more tips from the APTC experts, view