When gardening is a pain — literally
by Mary Tucker Cherokee
County Master Gardener
October 19, 2012 02:25 AM | 1005 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Though I love gardening, as I age I am experiencing some aches and pains that limit my enjoyment and productivity. Most of my problems are related to the joints of my hands and arms. I know I have carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist and the occasional “tennis” elbow (though from gardening, not tennis). And, yes, some arthritis is also creeping in.

Rather than give up my favorite hobby, I am striving to find ways to accommodate for my aging body and to keep pain at bay. And as hard as it might be, I am also slowly learning to accept my limitations and ask (or pay) for help with tasks that cause pain or create excessive stress on vulnerable joints.

Hand and arm pain such as mine is very common, making it easy to find information, especially on the Internet, and often you will find specific advice on preventing pain while gardening. In addition, creative tool designers have crafted numerous ergonomically designed gardening tools. An Internet search will provide many websites for just such products.

My hands are especially susceptible to pain when I repeatedly use a pinching or squeezing motion, such as that used when pruning. Keeping pruners sharp makes cutting easier on the joints, and I have learned from experience to only buy pruners of high quality with a reliable name.

While it is obvious that heavy lifting can put strain on the back, I have also learned from painful experience that the hands, wrists, and elbows can suffer. This is especially true if the lifting involves a grasping motion, such as carrying a heavy bucket. You can reduce the strain on your joints by using a cart or wheelbarrow to haul heavy items. I’ve also learned to make more trips with a lighter load rather than carrying the most I can fit in a bucket.

Gripping too tightly can be quite injurious to the hand and wrist and can also affect the elbow joint. Tools with large, soft or spongy grips put less strain on the joints, and you may be able to adapt some of your existing tools by adding foam tubing or a bicycle grip to the current handle.

When choosing tools, also consider the size and weight that you are most comfortable with — and this will be a matter of personal preference and your own physical limitations. Though a bigger tool may seem most efficient, it may require more effort to use, putting strain on joints. And though a lightweight tool may be easy to carry, its lack of heft may force you — rather than the tool — to generate more of the power.

Make sure that tools for cutting or digging have sharp edges to slice into wood or soil easily. If at all possible, try out a new tool before you purchase it. And ask fellow gardeners what their favorite and most comfortable tools are. You’ll be sure to get some good ideas.

Pace yourself, taking frequent breaks to stretch your muscles, and avoid doing the same activity or working in the same position for extended periods. Most importantly, if you feel pain, stop the activity. And take the opportunity to learn from your pain and your past mistakes. If you feel pain the day after gardening, analyze the type of pain you are feeling, and think about the specific activities you engaged in to determine what went wrong.

One final piece of advice: don’t give up on gardening! Take advantage of the many specially designed tools that are available, seek advice from the experts, and research your specific problem (such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or arthritis). You’ll find organizations that educate about these conditions, as well as exercises to strengthen your muscles, sooth your joints, and ease the pain. Here’s to happy — and pain-free — gardening for years to come!

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
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