Enjoy gardening without pain and fatigue | News&Stories

Warm weather gets many people excited to tackle their gardening and yard work to-do list. While it’s tempting to jump in and spend hours—or a full day—working outdoors, it’s best to start with shorter sessions to avoid overuse injuries, arthritis flares and fatigue. The following guidelines will help you stay safe and give you more energy as you work outdoors.

Plan, stay body aware and watch the clock

It’s easy to “get in the zone” and stay in the same position, leading to pain and tiredness. By being mindful about how your body moves, along with ways to simplify work and conserve energy, you’ll achieve your gardening goals without taking days to recover.

Before you start, think about what you’d like to do and then sort your tasks by most and least demanding. Switching between heavy labor and lighter tasks will save energy. For example, move bags of soil and then focus on making plant labels.

No matter what you’re doing, you should always think first about your body’s position—and place it as close as possible to what you’re working on and change positions as you go. For example, if you’re standing, instead of making long reaches, get down on the ground. Being on the ground protects your back and knees, works your core muscles and requires less effort to support your whole body. It also provides better leverage with heavy lifting jobs, like plant removal.

When lifting, keep heavy items close to your body and use your knees—not your back—to lift the item up and get it back down.

Taking regular breaks allows for changing body position and stretching to maintain flexibility. A good practice to follow is for every 15 minutes of work, stand up and stretch for 1 minute.

Tools of the trade

Using quality gardening tools, and keeping clippers and loppers sharpened, helps your body from having to force an action. Tools with large, padded grips are more comfortable, require less effort to hold and help decrease arthritis and joint pain. Consider tools with a 90-degree angle between the handle and tool, which keep the wrist and forearm in a neutral position. Tools designed for people with arthritis (even if you don’t have it) are ideal, and there are available resources online.

It’s best to move heavy items using a wheelbarrow or cart to conserve energy and protect your body.

best practices

To keep gardening enjoyable and safe:

  • Avoid working between 12 and 3 pm when the sun is highest and heat fatigue sets in faster.
  • Use a bug and sun protection, including sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and a lightweight, long-sleeve top and pants.
  • Stay hydrated with water or sports drinks.
  • On a pain and fatigue scale of 0 to 10, you should always be at 4 or lower.
  • Listen to your body and stop when tired: working through fatigue can lead to overuse injuries like “tennis elbow” and arthritis flares.
  • Gardening is a form of exercise, so take a day off from your regular exercise routine.

Remember that yard work and gardening stay where you leave it. You can always come back to finish another time—don’t pressure yourself to complete everything at once.

Here are some stretches to keep you gardening all season:

Neck and chest stretch

  • Sit or stand with proper posture.
  • Interlace fingers behind neck with elbows out to side.
  • Move neck and shoulders backward until a stretch is felt on front of neck and chest.
  • Hold and repeat.
  • Perform 1 set of 3 Repetitions, 2 times a day. Hold for 30 seconds.

Standing lumbar stretch with bent knee

lumber stretch for gardening

  • Place your right foot on a chair or stool.
  • Grasp your right knee with your left hand.
  • Gently pull your left arm and twist your trunk to the right.
  • Relax and repeat.
  • Repeat stretch to the left with your left foot on a chair.
  • Perform 1 set of 3 repetitions, 2 times a day. Hold for 30 seconds.

rhomboid stretch

rhomboid stretch

  • Bring your arm across the front of your body as shown.
  • Hold your elbow with your opposite arm.
  • Gently pull across your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder.
  • Repeat with your other arm.
  • Perform 1 set of 3 repetitions, 2 times a day. Hold for 30 seconds.

Wrist flexors with bent elbow

wrist stretch

  • Bend your elbow.
  • Grasp your fingers of one hand with your other hand.
  • Pull back hand gently as shown.
  • Repeat with your other hand.
  • Perform 1 set of 3 repetitions, 2 times a day. Hold for 30 seconds.

Alison R. Sanborn, MS, OTR/L, Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinics Heater Road, Lebanon

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