Gardening can be a painless activity with a bit of planning, the right equipment, and modifying the way you perform your tasks. With a few adaptations, appropriate support to involved joints, and following strategies that will prevent further damage, you can continue to enjoy gardening for years to come.
The extra effort needed to do your work along with the pain you feel can be tiring. Divide work tasks into small chunks with planned, frequent rest breaks. Plan to rotate through activities frequently so that you do not remain in the same posture using the same joints and muscles for too long (e.g. pruning for 15 min, then switch to cleaning up clippings, watering, etc.) Avoid beginning activities that cannot be stopped if you begin to feel pain. Spread your tasks throughout the week rather than try to get it all done in a day.
Being Prepared with the Right Equipment
Built-up handles can go a long way toward reducing pressure and discomfort in your hands when holding and working with tools. Use gardening and household tools with large ergonomic handles. You can wrap foam, cloth, or tape around the handles of tools to cushion the grip and improve comfort with use. Padded gloves can be very helpful in reducing pain and pressure on joints when raking, hoeing, and other tasks with prolonged gripping. Splints and supportive orthotics for the hands and wrists can offer increased support to the joints and structures involved and provide further pain relief and protection. An occupational therapist can recommend appropriate orthotics or fabricate a custom splint that will properly position your joints during activities and rest.
Use a cart to carry or transport items. A raised gardening bed, use of a gardening bench, or planting in pots can reduce the strain and poor posture caused by kneeling and stooping to flower beds. If necessary to kneel, use cushioned knee pads and take frequent breaks to stand and stretch. Additionally, long handled shears can help reduce the need to reach overhead.
Taking a New Approach to Gardening Tasks
Many gardeners have a routine that gets them through their gardening chores however this routine usually pre-dates the onset of arthritis. Before beginning gardening tasks, do a light, low-impact activity for 5-10 minutes to warm-up your joints. Practice good posture and let your larger, stronger joints do the work when possible. For example, hold a pot with two open-palm hands on each side rather than grip the lip of the pot one-handed with your thumb. Using your shoulders and elbows more with lifting and carrying items close to your body will lessen the load on the smaller joints of your hands and wrists.
Pain is NOT Gain
Respect your joints and back off or stop any task that increases your pain. Pain signals are the only way for your body to let you know it’s time to stop in order to prevent further damage. With the right gardening plan, you can keep your lawn and garden looking beautiful without a flare up of arthritis pain.