Gardening can be great exercise, but it can also cause numerous injuries, aches and pains. Both traumatic injuries and repetitive strain injuries can occur during gardening. Traumatic injuries tend to occur with use of power tools and heavy lifting. Repetitive strain injuries tend to occur with improper use of tools, poor ergonomics and fatigue. Injuries are often a result of being overly tired, so be sure to take frequent breaks, change your position, and stay hydrated!
To avoid heavy, repetitive lifting, use tools designed to assist in heavy manual labor such as ergonomically designed tools, lifting belts and wheeled carts. When lifting is necessary, be sure to bend the knees and hips with your spine straight and core engaged to avoid twisting or jerking. The use of proper work gloves, safety goggles and protective gear is necessary when using heavy equipment or power tools for safety but also to reduce vibration and excessive strain. Comfortable clothing, use of hats and sunglasses are helpful and wearing supportive shoes (avoid sandals or flip flops) can help to avoid injuries such as ankle sprains.
Repetitive injuries are common with gardening but can easily be avoided! Warming up and light stretching prior to and after your day in the yard can be helpful to reduce strain. Avoid excessive bending or reaching, instead use kneeling pads or stool/ bench/seats when working at low levels. Move closer to the area you are working to avoid reaching, and face the area to avoid twisting. Modify your garden to include elevated potted plants or raised garden beds to improve your ergonomics and reduce bending.
There are many updated garden tools that provide improved ergonomic alignment, have extenders, have straps, or can be worn as a backpack which will reduce excessive gripping and bending. Using tools with longer handles, spring loaded tension and soft grip handles help to improve force and reduce your effort during work. Finding a tool that fits your body is important including height and handle size to avoid an excessively wide grip which is a common cause of hand and wrist strain. Tool maintenance can also improve its efficiency and ease of use. Be sure to clean and wipe down tools after use, keep blades sharp and store in a safe, clean environment.
If you begin to note swelling, tingling, weakness, or pain, be sure to seek advice from your doctor or physical therapist. We can help you to avoid further injury and provide individualized ergonomics training, strengthening and stretching exercises.
The last piece of advice is after you put in all the hard work for your garden or yard, be sure to sit back, relax and enjoy it!