Medically Reviewed by Michael J. Sutton, DO
Gardening for Beginners & Others To Avoid Injury
It’s no surprise that lawnmowers – with sharp, whirling blades — top the list of causes for accidents in the yard. However, coming in second is the helpless little flowerpot – causing falls, cuts, and lifting injuries.
“Gardening, like any physical activity, can lead to an orthopedic problem,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Michael Sutton. “For gardeners, knees are a prime source of aches and pains. Improper bending. Heavy lifting. And digging with your wrist at strange angles can also cause difficulties.”
As winter wanes and spring buds, gardeners head for their outside plants. As you start digging, here are some orthopedic tips to help and dangers to avoid.
GARDENING IS A SPORT
Several observers make the point that preparing to work in the garden is like preparing for any other major recreational sport. That means warm up and stretching are in order. A nice hot shower will warm the muscles and joints. Or take a few brisk laps around the garden, planning your day, raising your pulse and warming your body.
WATCH THE BACK
When possible, use a gardening table or raised beds to avoid too much bending or stooping. Try to find long-handled tools so you can work standing up.
When you are working with a wheelbarrow or lifting pots and bags of soil, keep your back straight and lift with your legs. If you’re pulling weeds, use your legs and tighten your abs (as if someone was going to punch you).
Osteoarthritis, which can lead to the need for a total joint replacement, can be triggered by wear and tear or an acute injury. If you’re working on your knees, wear kneepads or use a rubber pad on the ground under your knees. If your knees swell or ache, try treating them with R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). If that doesn’t work, see an orthopedic specialist.
Be careful if you are reaching above your head to prune trees and bushes. Use good posture and try not to cut braches that are too wide. It may put excessive strain on your forearm muscles.
ARMS & WRISTS
Use tools that are ergonomically designed and have padded handles. Be careful to keep your wrist in a neutral position. Working at unusual angels can cause sprains or worse. If your hand starts feeling pain or becomes numb, it may be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. And, yes, there is a gardener’s version of Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow, an inflammation from over use or using it as the wrong angle.
Set a timer for breaks every 15 minutes or so. Do some quick stretches to loosen tight muscles and joints. Vary your location and activities so you don’t strain one set of muscles.
AND WHEN YOU’RE DONE
Let’s return to the major recreational sport metaphor and take some time for a slow cool down. Take laps around your finished work, maybe stretching a bit along the way.
FINAL THOUGHT Keep the fun in your gardening this year. If any muscle or joint pain persists, see an orthopedic specialist.
To find a McLeod Orthopedic Specialist, click here.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, BBC, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Bette Homes & Gardens, Pain Control.co.uk, HGTV