Wouldn’t it be nice to spend hours upon end in the garden? If you suffer from arthritis, your body may have different ideas. Pain and inflammation can make garden tasks quite a challenge, not to mention additional symptoms like fatigue and loss of mobility.
However, arthritis doesn’t mean you have to hang up the shovel. In fact, physical activity is helpful for managing symptoms. With the right tools and know-how, you can make gardening more of a pleasure and less of a pain.
Even though gardening offers a workout, many people skip this important first step that helps prevent injury and stress. Before you dig in, take a short walk, walk on the spot for a few minutes and get in some gentle stretches.
2. Set manageable goals and priorities.
As with housework or any ongoing activity, experts recommend planning ahead and spreading it out during the day and week. Start with the tasks that need the most attention — like watering delicate plants or weeding the front garden — and figure out what can wait, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Keep your to-do list manageable so you can meet your goals without aggravating your condition.
3. Reduce your workload with planning.
Smarter planning can help reduce the workload later on — such as employing irrigation systems to do the watering, laying mulch to retain moisture or using weed mats to deter unwanted plants. You can also choose lower maintenance plants that need less watering and attention, or opt for easier-to-handle seedlings instead of seeds. Perennials can also be a boon to your budget as well as saving you time and energy planting.
4. Learn some new techniques.
Anyone who works with their hands knows the importance of proper form and technique, especially when it comes to avoiding repetitive stress. Whether you want to brush up your skills or need to adapt them, you can find workshops and demonstrations through your local garden centre, community gardens and recreational programs in your area. Watch for online gardening videos through company websites or YouTube.
5. Remember: Size matters.
Experts recommend focusing on using the major joints rather than the small ones to handle most of the job.
6. Keep things close.
Injuries can happen when we twist and reach, but there’s usually a safer way to do things. Experts warn to keep your work close to you and avoid any awkward angles or movements. Reaching aids and extendable tools can also help.
Find it hard to bend down over flower beds and vegetable plots? Bring gardening up to your level by using raised garden beds or planters which can be easily reached from a seated position rather than kneeling. Containers also let you take advantage of easily accessible spaces like patios or window boxes.
You don’t have to sacrifice the herbs and vegetables: look for varieties that are bred for this purpose.
7. Invest in ergonomic tools.
The right tool can make jobs easier, but good quality isn’t the only thing to look for. Many tools are designed to make movements smoother and less jarring, like pruning trees or digging. Look for ergonomic handles and tools that fit the size of your hand, and find a sturdy garden set or kneeling bad to make work for comfortable. Some tools can even extend your reach — like stand-up weeders that let you yank out invaders without bending over.
Conserve your energy by using a wheel barrow to carry heavy loads. Tackling a smaller job? Try a wagon, dolly, cart or garden caddy with wheels for carrying tools and plants.
8. Use protection.
Go beyond garden gloves and ask your doctor if there are any ways to help stabilize and protect joints while you work — like a brace or splint.
9. Take lots of breaks.
It can be easy to overdo it on a sunny day or when you’re feeling good, but experts warn to take plenty of breaks even if you don’t think you need them. For instance, take a break from planting to walk around the yard for a few minutes or go into the house for a glass of water. Resting doesn’t have to mean putting your feet up, but you should give the joints and muscles you were using some time off.
10. Alternate tasks.
Variety is good for the joints, but repetition can cause unnecessary stress and strain. Try alternating heavy tasks with lighter ones, and avoid doing any one activity for too long. For instance, switch between weeding the garden and watering or trimming the hedges — these activities require different positions and motions.
11. One final word of advice: Respect the pain.
It can be tempting to persevere through symptoms, but it’s important to listen to your body and stop when necessary. It’s better to take a rest and pace yourself rather than face an injury or setback that could keep you away from your garden even longer. Until there’s a cure for arthritis, taking some simple steps like pacing yourself and picking the right tools can help you keep doing the things you love.
Sources: The Arthritis Foundation, The Arthritis Society, Health Canada: Garden Safety, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Gardening Health and Safety Tips.