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Cutting edge technology reveals how to dig

January 22, 2018

A study out of England's Coventry University, in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society, has focused on the seriousness and complexity of common injuries related to gardening, landscaping, and other labor-intensive agricultural tasks in hopes of determining preferred techniques for accomplishing the jobs while promoting safer behavior.

Toward this end, James Shippen, Paul Alexander, and Barbara May showcased some very modern methods in their article "A Novel Biomechanical Analysis of Horticultural Digging" published in the current issue of HortTechnology.

The RHS and Coventry University employed equipment usually used in the production of animated Hollywood films to very accurately measure the movement of gardeners undertaking routine tasks; for example digging and shoveling, from which they calculated the loads and torques occurring within the bones, joints and muscles.

The analysis of an array of these tasks was the yield of a cooperative effort of a team comprised of horticulturists who provided a list of activities that have generated personal injuries and physiotherapists who examined the degree to which these activities are inherently harmful to a normal and healthy human body. It was found that bad posture could increase loads by 50 percent in the lower back--and double on the shoulders--leaving people susceptible to chronic injuries.

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. The equipment and methodology, known as motion capture, allows the movement of the body to be captured digitally, enabling the data to then be analyzed by a computer program developed at Coventry University that contains a model of the human skeleton, major joints and more than 600 muscles associated with movement.

The researchers found that stress in the lumbar region of the back, where many gardeners complain of aches and pains, could be increased by 50% due to bad posture. The shoulders were even more sensitive, suffering double the load effect if bad posture was used. High stress loads on the 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 characterized by large forward bending, stretching limbs and uncontrolled motion.

Shippen added, "Improving your posture while in the garden could help you avoid injuries and gain the maximum benefit."
-end-
The complete article is available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/27/6/746.full. Or you may contact Dr. James Shippen at Coventry University at j.shippen@coventry.ac.uk or (44) 24-7688-7072.

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticulture Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticulture research, education, and application. More information at ashs.org.

American Society for Horticultural Science

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