The secret to avoiding injury: Keep your back straight, bend your knees and don’t overstretch, Britain’s 27 million gardeners were told.
Bad posture when digging increases strain on the lower back by 50 per cent and doubles load on the shoulders, new guidelines warn.
Coventry University analysed eight men and seven women digging, using techniques used to study actors’ body movements to create animations.
The university teamed up with the Royal Horticultural Society to publish its digging dos and don’ts in the journal HortTechnology.
Gardening is good for health and wellbeing, but increasing wear and tear on joints carries a risk of osteoarthritis.
Bad digging posture involves bending forward, stretching your limbs and twisting.
But good posture involves a “minimal back bend” but bending at the knees ensures you can shovel without placing excess stress on your back.
When it is time to move dug-over soil, it is better to take a step forward, bend the knees and let them take the strain when you lift the load.
Dr James Shippen, an expert in biomechanics at Coventry’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities, said: “Try to keep the work in as close as possible to avoid over-reaching and twisting the back.”
The team monitored BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Frances Tophill, 30, and found she was putting her lower back under excessive strain.
She said: “After years of bending and lifting my lower back and hips struggle. But it is part of the job.
“You do not always think about how best to do it for your body. You are thinking about how to do it as quickly and as well as you can.”
Dr Paul Alexander, of the RHS, said: “Digging is one of the more common gardening practices, yet we tend to rely upon common sense which can lead to gardeners complaining of aches and pains.
“Our findings will help us ensure both amateurs and professionals stay digging for longer, avoiding injury and improving efficiency.”