How to protect your joints and muscle health during lockdown spring cleaning, gardening

With many of us housebound for the near future in COVID-19 alert levels 3 and 4 across New Zealand, it's the perfect time to get stuck into the DIY building, cleaning and gardening jobs we've been putting off all winter. 

In my Auckland home, with the combination of two more weeks at level 4 and the first day of spring finally upon us, it means it's finally time to tackle the monster of a weed garden that has sprouted around our house. 

But it turns out that going gung-ho in the garden and after months of sitting at a desk or doing menial household tasks can lead to a myriad of postural issues and joint problems. 

Thanks to Good Health's joint health supplement range, osteopath and ONZ member Sarah Boughtwood has given Newshub some of her top tips for protecting joints during a burst of spring cleaning and gardening.

Think of your posture

The first thing to consider is your posture alignment - ie, keeping your head, shoulders, back and feet inline, says Boughtwood. 

"Aare your head, shoulders, spine and feet in line? Or more commonly is your head pushed forwards, shoulders and upper back rounded, with an increased arch in your lower back and standing dominantly on one leg?" she asks. 

"All these poor posture habits add extra strain to your joints."

She recommends standing in front of a mirror to observe how you stand, sit and move. 

"If your head is too far forwards, the weight of your skull isn't evenly distributed, and your upper neck, in particular, takes the added strain," Boughtwood says.

"As an osteopath, I commonly see this causing neck pain and headaches. With your shoulders and upper back being 'rounded' forwards, this affects your shoulder and spine mobility but very importantly it can affect your breathing and as the shoulders and thoracic spine encompass your rib cage. 

"Your shoulders and back should be in a neutral position, this allows the rib joints to move properly when you breathe. Your lower back should have a slight arch: An increased arch makes your bottom more prominent and adds strain to your lower back joint, creating back pain."

Lift correctly

When lifting heavy things around the garden or house, it's important to do it correctly. 

"Our abdomen is made up of some amazing muscles that help support our joints when we do tasks around the house," says Broughtwood, adding our 'core' refers to the cylinder of muscles working in synch with each other to create support and strength around our middle section. 

"When you are lifting a heavy basket of washing or food shopping bags, gently engage your core. By engaging your core muscles, you are not hanging off your back muscles and joints. Gently activating these muscles is very important to avoid injuring yourself."

The same goes for lifting a heavy bag of compost or a large pot plant. 

"If you're heard the term 'using your back as a crane' this refers to not bending with your knees, and your back and legs remain straight. 

"Unfortunately, naturally this is how most of us bend when we are not consciously thinking about correct lifting posture and supporting our joints.

"Bending with your knees takes the strain off your back and evenly distributes the weight in your lower limbs. Lifting should be more of a squat technique to safely support your joints."

Take a break

And no matter how into the task you are, take a few breaks regularly to allow your body to reset. 

"This gives your joints a break and reduces the strain on the joints. Ideally every 20 minutes you should stop what you are doing whether it be cleaning the bath, gardening, vacuuming etc and stop for a small break," she says. 

"During this break, you can relax, stretch and reset your posture."

Then at the end, recover properly - it's just as important as monitoring your form and core during the task itself. 

"Your joints would love nothing more than a soak in the bath, a hot shower or a wheat bag after a session in the garden," says Broughtwood, explaining that heat helps stimulate blood flow, so it's important for joint and muscle repair. 

"During these colder months, make sure you are warm enough, especially at nighttime. It is important we sleep well, as nighttime is when our parasympathetic nervous system is in its 'rest, digest and repair' phase. This means while we sleep our body is in recovery mode. 

"If we are too cold at nighttime, we don't sleep well, thus interrupting the rest and repair phase. Try sleeping with socks on or an electric blanket to keep you warm."

She also recommends supplements as a way of supporting our bodies, containing quality ingredients like Tumeric to support your joints and recovery with its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Curcumin is the key active ingredient in turmeric and has been scientifically qualified. 

Tumeric supplements readily available in New Zealand include Good Health's new 'Joint Support' range, Go Healthy's Tumeric range and Nutralife's Tumeric 'One a Day'.