A great way to spend the day outside and get some exercise this summer is to grab your gloves and hit the garden. Gardening not only provides nutritious fruits and vegetables to enjoy, but it can also be soothing and peaceful. However, yard work can often take a toll on our hands and wrists, so it’s important to take some precautions.
Two of the most common injuries from gardening are repetitive strain injuries and tendonitis. Repetitive strain injuries are typically caused by doing the same thing over and over for too long. Gardening activities could include weeding, soiling, digging, and planting. Tendonitis stems from a repetitive strain injury that affects the tendons that attach muscles to bones. Tendonitis can cause pain in your hands and wrists and can prevent you from doing activities you enjoy.
How to avoid these injuries and enjoy a summer of gardening:
Stretches for hands before gardening:
- Fold hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat twice.
- Extend one arm out in front of you with the elbow straight. With the palm facing down, take your opposite hand and gently bend the wrist downward. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then turn the palm up and stretch the wrist backwards. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
- Keep hands in front of you and move your hands and wrist in 5-10 small circles to loosen up the muscles. Reverse direction.
Tips for while gardening:
- Avoid any awkward motions by using good body positioning. Work with wrists in a neutral position. Use larger joints like shoulders and elbows to do the heaviest work.
- Wait to do extensive weeding until after a rain storm. The weeds will be easier to pull out, putting less strain on your hands and wrists
- Use a tool when possible, which will reduce hand and thumb pain from repetitive pinching and pulling weeds. Look for well-designed tools with padded handles and spring loaded cutting tools that return to an opened position.
- Keep cutting tools sharp and well oiled, so they work as they should and require less effort to use.
- Use the right tool for the job. Large loppers use bigger muscle groups in your arms and require less work from your hands. Choose hands pruners only for small branches that are easy to cut through.
- If you have a brace or orthosis that was prescribed for you for your hand arthritis, use it while you garden. You may choose to obtain a second orthosis to wear for less dirty tasks.
- Use garden gloves. They not only serve as a pad between your hand and the tool, but they can help prevent the tool from slipping in your hand, which means you don’t have to grip the tool as forcefully to maintain good control.
- Make sure you are taking breaks every 30 minutes and stretching. Switch up your tasks to avoid doing the same thing for too long.
After gardening, perform stretches again, taking note of any sore areas on your hands or wrists. If you have pain, use an ice/cold pack on the area. If possible, try to identify the specific task or tool that can be modified for next time.