GARD-EN AGAINST INJURY

Although gardening is not considered a “sport”, the reality is that gardening can result in just as many injuries as many sports do.  The main contributing factor to gardening injuries is that most people consider gardening to be a casual afternoon of fun and they don’t adequately warm up, stretch or prepare for the task. And since many aspects of gardening are repetitive in nature (such as sitting, kneeling or remaining bent over), the repetition of tasks and positioning commonly lead to injury.  Accidentally stepping on gardening equipment is another common cause of injury.

Common gardening injuries

The most common gardening injuries include neck pain, shoulder tendonitis (an inflammation injury to the tendons of your shoulder’s rotator cuff), low back pain, lateral epicondylitis (aka tennis elbow; swelling of the tendons causing pain in the elbow and arm), carpal tunnel syndrome (painful condition of the hand and fingers caused by compression of a major nerve), tenosynovitis of the thumb (pain and/or swelling at the base of the thumb), and pre-patellar bursitis (inflammation of the kneecap).

Tips you can include in your gardening to avoid injury

Warm up with some stretching. Click here for a list of some helpful stretches.
Change positions often. No body part likes to be used for long periods, so either take frequent breaks in order to mix up your positioning or switch up your tasks every 20 minutes. For example, you could weed for 20 minutes, then prune for 20 minutes, then spread mulch for 20 minutes. Whatever the tasks, think about getting three types of gardening activities in each hour.
Bend your legs. When lifting heavy items like soil bags or rocks, use your legs and not your back. Keep your back in a fairly straight position and gently pull in your tummy muscles before lifting in order to help support your torso.  Your legs are strongest when they are bent only halfway so don’t squat too far before standing back up again.  Keep the load close into your body and don’t twist while lifting or setting items down; move your feet to get the item there.
Limit twisting. Twisting can cause injury even when weeding or doing light tasks; try to turn your feet and or hips as often as possible to complete your tasks in order to avoid unnecessary stresses on your back.

Use tools the right way:

Gloves. Gloves are not essential when gardening, but they can protect the hands from thorns, splinters, blisters, dirt, dry skin, and organisms in the soil/compost/manure. Wearing the right size glove is important. Gloves that are too small will not allow adequate hand or finger movement.  Gloves that are too big will cause you to grip your tools more forcefully, which leads to stress in the muscles of the hand, elbow and forearm, and can easily lead to injury in these areas
Hand Tools. Before buying a hand tool, grip the tools in your hand to ensure you like the feel and that you can comfortably hold onto the grip while adding pressure to the working end. If you have pre-existing hand pain, or chronic gripping issues, ergonomically designed handles are available which ease the pressure in specific areas of the hand and thumb.  Keeping your tools sharp will decrease the amount of force you need to work with them.
Large gardening tools. Before buying large tools, grip the tools in your hand to ensure you like the feel and that you can comfortably hold onto the grip while adding pressure to the working end. Long handled tools are available for tall gardeners in order to save strain on your back from leaning forward for excessive periods over a short handle.
Wheelbarrow. If you are going to buy a wheelbarrow, consider one with two wheels at the front. Traditional wheelbarrows have one wheel at the front allowing for easy maneuverability and require moderate strength to handle when full.  Newer wheelbarrow designs have two wheels mounted close together at the front. The two-wheel design provides more stability when both pushing the wheelbarrow and when setting it down to rest.