Green thumbs with sore joints

Gardening has grown into one of Canada’s most popular pastimes. And arthritis sufferers don’t have to miss the joy of turning a plain plot of soil into a fragrant flower bed or succulent vegetable patch. With a few simple warm-ups, common sense tips, and precautions, arthritis sufferers can still dig right in:

  • Be sure to work with your healthcare provider to determine how much you can do and what assistive devices might be right for you.

  • Take a 10-minute break every hour. Keep track of time with a kitchen timer — don’t get carried away and overdo it.

  • Select tools that reduce stress on joints and make sure they’re sharp and well-oiled. Keep an eye out for long-handled tools or a two-wheeled cart.

  • If needed, make your garden safe for walkers and wheelchairs by ensuring that paths are wide and paving slabs have a rough service.

  • Plan rest areas, such as benches, in the garden, so you can enjoy your garden even during breaks. Think of fences and trellises as potential hand holds and seats, so be sure they’re sturdy.

  • Keep tool storage near intensive work areas, and be sure that frequently-used items are sred within easy reach. Instead of using low cabinets for storage that require stooping and bending, take advantage of easily-accessible hooks, shelves, and counters.

  • Keep beds no wider than 60 cm (2 feet) or easy access, if from one side only. Replace flower beds with shrubs, herbaceous, or perennial plants which are easier to care for.

  • Warm up muscles and joints before heading out into the garden. You can apply heat, with a hot water bottle or a warm bath, or do some light warm up exercises.

  • The exercises should be repeated five to ten times and they should not cause any pain or increase symptoms. These include gently tucking and then flexing your hand. For your shoulders, gently raise and lower them, and roll them backwards. Warm up your neck muscles by rotating your head, bending if from side to side, forward, and backward.

  • After spending some time in the garden, take a stretch break to keep stiff or tight muscles from getting injured. Cool down exercises after gardening include stretching the wrists downward.

  • Avoid performing too many repetitions of the same movement, such as bending repeatedly. Also avoid holding one position for too long and trying to lift or carry too heavy a load.