Gardening Tips to Avoid Injury

Gardening is fun and can be great exercise. Gardening has both physical and mental benefits. It offers a sense of accomplishment, increases self-esteem, and alleviates depression.

However, gardening can be hard work that includes repeat-motion activities, heavy lifting, and bending and kneeling. So before you begin digging in the ground this gardening season, enjoy these tips to help avoid injury:

  1. Never work through pain! Plan tasks in realistic proportions.  As with any physically demanding activity, avoid overdoing it.  As much as possible, try to work in the “Comfort Zone“ – think baseball strike zone (knees to shoulders at roughly an arm’s reach distance away from the body).
  2. Gardening Ergonomics: Tools
    • Choose the proper tool for the task at hand.
    • Handle diameter is important. For some people, a fatter handle feels more comfortable at the wrist. However, a fatter handle will fatigue your grip more quickly.
    • Look for ergonomic tools. Just because the tool says it is “ergonomic” does NOT mean it is ergonomic for you! It must fit YOUR body. Try out tools before you buy because handle size, weight, and length of spindle are all key when it comes to using a tool.
    • Telescopic and pistol-grip handles require less energy and keep the body in proper alignment.
    • Shorter tool handles provide greater leverage control (best for small hand tools).
    • Use long-handled tools to reduce strain on your back, knees and hips instead of reaching.
    • If tools have wooden or metal handles, consider adding padded tape or pipe insulation foam.
    • Keep blades sharp and oiled. Dull blades require more force to get the same job done.
    • Load tools, supplies, rocks and other heavy items onto a vinyl snow sled; pull it around to work stations. A wheelbarrow is another option.
  3. Gardening Ergonomics: Back
    • Alternate sides with raking.
    • Put leaves and garden debris on a canvas tarp and slide along the ground to eliminate lifting and carrying for long distances.
    • Sit on a bucket or stool. If you have knee, hip or back pain, sitting will help you avoid putting pressure onto those areas. Use long-handled tools.
    • Introduce raised beds, containers and trellises – bring the garden closer to you – the closer your garden is to waist level, the less bending and the less strain on your lower back.
    • Alternate sitting and standing positions at 30-minute intervals. Keep your work close to you. Minimize reaching.
    • Use long handled tools instead of bending and reaching.
    • Digging should be done with intermittent breaks in order for your body to rest from the repetition. Bending over for too long can very quickly become painful to the lower back and legs.
  4. Gardening Ergonomics: Legs and Feet
    • Use knee pads to protect your knees.
    • Wear stiff sole work boots for digging.
    • Ice your knees for 15 minutes after you garden.

If you experience prolonged soreness or pain, or if an injury does not resolve itself, be sure to contact your doctor or call one of our physical therapists here at Northern Rehab at 815.756.8524. We are here to help you regain your freedom to move!