New research reveals how gardeners can dig for health, not injury

Wednesday 14 March 2018

  • RHS and Coventry University study uses Hollywood technology to assess the impact of different digging techniques on the body
  • Novel biomechanical modelling shows ‘bad’ digging posture can double the load on joints
  • Large forward bend, stretched limbs and uncontrolled motion puts UK’s 27million gardeners at risk

New research from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and Coventry University reveals that a bad digging technique can as much as double the load on the joints in the body, leaving people susceptible to chronic injuries.

The results, published in the journal HortTechnology, reveal the risks that the nation’s 27 million gardeners might be running if using a bad digging technique and comes at a time when more people are recognising the health benefits of gardening.

The RHS and Coventry University employed equipment usually used in the production of animated Hollywood films and advanced hospital laboratories to map the movement of gardeners while digging and measured the loads imposed on the body’s joints, bones and muscles.

The 3D optical tracking equipment involved attaching reflective “ping pong” sized balls at key anatomical locations on the gardeners and then surrounding them with high-resolution, high-speed infra-red cameras. This equipment, known as motion capture, allows the movement of the body to be captured digitally enabling the data to then be analysed by BoB - a computer programme developed at Coventry University. BoB contains a model of the human skeleton, major joints and over 600 of the body’s muscles associated with movement, enabling the researchers to calculate the internal loads for each participant.

The researchers found 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 for a bad posture. The shoulders were even more sensitive, where more than double the load was generated if a bad posture was used. Large loads at joints are associated with increased risk of osteoarthritis, the most common form of joint disease.

It was also 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, said: “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.”

Dr James Shippen, an expert in biomechanics at Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities, said: “This project moves biomechanical analysis into another field. Many of our findings agree with received wisdom on good digging techniques which has been accumulated over many years but now we can provide quantitative evidence to support that opinion on what makes a good digging style.”
 

-Ends-

Notes to editors

About the RHS: The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener, healthier, happier and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.
 

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.


The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £10.4 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit www.rhs.org.uk/join


RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262


About Coventry University: Coventry University’s dynamic, global and transformational reputation can be traced back to 1843 to the Coventry School of Design. A provider of world-class teaching and learning with a focus on research with impact, Coventry pushes the boundaries of what higher education can achieve regionally, nationally and across the world.


The university is recognised internationally for the world-leading calibre of its engineering and design graduates – particularly in the automotive field – as well as its research activities which support innovation in the transport industry.


Its Institute for Future Transport and Cities brings together world class expertise in a variety of disciplines across art and design, human factors, engineering, manufacturing, computer systems and business studies to deliver a vision of “safe and sustainable transport solutions fit for the cities of the future”.
http://www.coventry.ac.uk/
 

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit www.rhs.org.uk

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262