New research reveals how gardeners can dig for health without injury

New research from Coventry University and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) 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.

Coventry University

Coventry University 08 January 2018

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.

Coventry University and the RHS 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.

Motion Capture System (12 VICON T-Series + 2 VICON Bonita). Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems

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. Biomechanics of Bodies (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.

This is a biomechanical analysis of good digging technique from research by Coventry University and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) published in the journal HortTechnology. The technique is characterized by minimal back bend, large knee bend and tight movement. Coventry University

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.

This is a biomechanical analysis of bad digging technique from research by Coventry University and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) published in the journal HortTechnology. The technique is characterized by large forward bending, stretching limbs and uncontrolled motion. Coventry University

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.”

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.”

Source Coventry University via EurekAlert! AAAS


A Novel Biomechanical Analysis of Horticultural Digging, Shippen, J., Alexander, P., & May, B. HortTechnology December 2017 vol. 27 no. 6 746-753. doi: 10.21273/HORTTECH03800-17. PDF

  Further reading

Reliability and validity of a novel Kinect-based software program for measuring posture, balance and side-bending, Wilhelmus Johannes Andreas Grooten, Lisa Sandberg, John Ressman, Nicolas Diamantoglou, Elin Johansson and Eva Rasmussen-Barr. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. BMC series 201819:6. Published 8 January 2018. doi: 10.1186/s12891-017-1927-0

Measurement and Geometric Modelling of Human Spine Posture for Medical Rehabilitation Purposes Using a Wearable Monitoring System Based on Inertial Sensors, Gheorghe-Daniel Voinea, Silviu Butnariu, and Gheorghe Mogan. Sensors (Basel). 2017 Jan; 17(1): 3. Published online 2016 Dec 22. doi: 10.3390/s17010003

Digging comparison. Comparison of muscle activities for good and bad digging techniques. mendip89. Published Youtube on Dec 16, 2017
Collaboration with Royal Opera House links physics and ballet. Ever wanted to know how dancers leap so high? How they remain balanced? How rotational mechanics help a dancer pirouette? Leading scientists and members of the Royal Ballet got together in February to explore the dynamic relationship between physics and ballet. Institute of Physics. Published Youtube on Mar 21, 2017

tango_tune5. Martin Barrett. Vimeo Feb 7, 2017

Also see
Coventry University Uses Xsens Motion Capture Suit to Investigate the Health Benefits of Gardening Xens
Perception Neuron Motion Capture Teams with Biomechanics of Bodies (BoB) to Offer Universities and Researchers a Complete Biomechanical Analysis System PRWeb
Biomechanics of Bodies (BoB) BoB-Biomechanics Ltd

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