Protect Yourself from Injury While Gardening

By Karen Holmes, Newburyport.Com Correspondent
Karen Holmes, DPT has been a physical therapist for over 30 years. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Therapy from Northeastern University and later obtained a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Simmons College. She worked many years specializing in the treatment of orthopedic/sports related injuries and now owns a successful private practice in Salisbury, MA.
Holmes Physical Therapy
Protect Yourself From Injury, Holmes Physical Therapy, Salisbury MA

Gardening is a great way to get some exercise while enjoying the fresh air and beautifying your home.  It should be enjoyed and considered a “work in progress” not a task to be completed in one weekend.  If you do garden there are many things you can do to protect yourself from injury.  First apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply it throughout the day.  Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses.  Use an insect repellent with DEET, tuck your pant legs into your socks or wear high rubber boots.  Always check for ticks.  Wear a good pair of gloves and appropriate footwear-NO FLIP FLOPS.  Prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty.  Some of the effects of dehydration are dry mouth, thirst, skin flushing, fatigue, chills and dark colored urine.

Use proper equipment by selecting tools that improve your grip and minimize bending and carrying.  Choose long handled rakes and hoes so you can stand upright.  Make the “OK” sign with your thumb and index finger; this is the ideal grip diameter of a hand tool.  Using knee pads when kneeling can protect your knees, some come with handles that can assist you getting up and down to reduce back strain.  Others come with long handles and can be flipped upside down so that the cushion becomes a seat.  I recently switched to a lighter weight hose and am amazed at the decreased strain to my neck, back and shoulders.  Using a 2 wheeled cart vs. a wheelbarrow also reduces muscle strain as it is more stable.   An ergonomic watering can is helpful for those with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Lift with your leg muscles not your back.  Face the object you intend to lift, squat down keeping your back straight and tighten your abdominal muscles, then lift.  Keep your feet shoulder width apart and distribute the weight of the load equally across your body to help protect yourself from injury.  Don’t twist; take small steps while turning your body.  Protect your neck and shoulders when reaching; keep your arms at or below shoulder level if possible.  Keep your shoulders away from your ears!  If you have to work above shoulder heights then take a break every 5 minutes to stretch your neck and back.

Overuse of repetitive motions such as digging, weeding and constant gripping can cause tendonitis of the wrist and elbow.  To minimize the chance of injury take breaks every hour, change your activity when possible.  Stretch throughout the day.  Break heavier tasks into shorter sessions.  Never work through pain or you may cause a serious injury if you push yourself beyond your limits. Stretches that counter the forward bend position are helpful at the end of the day.

Don’t be a weekend warrior.  Take the necessary steps to protect yourself from injury.  It may be discouraging not to complete a task or make your garden look as good as you had hoped.  But it will be more frustrating if you end up in so much pain that you can’t do anything.  However should you develop pain that lasts more than a few days,  Holmes Physical Therapy can help.  We specialize in the treatment of orthopedic and sports related injuries and will be happy to assist you in your return to safe gardening.