Top 5 Joint Protection Tips for Gardeners


Fresh air, vitamin D, moving the body, and getting your hands in the soil – gardening no doubt offers a host of both physical and mental health benefits.

I personally love that a garden is a place where people of all ages, stages, and fitness levels can enjoy physical activity. Unfortunately, many are hindered by the discomfort it causes.

Gardening tasks such as digging, planting, and weeding can cause stress and strain on muscles and joints.  If you have arthritis, a previous injury, or other mobility issues this can lead to swelling and pain. For many, it takes days to recover from this type of flare up. 

The good news is, with some movement modifications we can take the strain off the shoulders, back, neck, and knees. We recommend the following 5 tips to our gardening clients to minimize the risk of injury:

1. Warm Up

Warm up before you begin in the same way you would before formal exercise. Get your heart rate up by taking a 5-minute walk followed by some stretches for your upper and lower back. Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.

2. Change Positions

The biggest problem with gardening is the repetition.  Take frequent breaks and change positions to prevent joint stiffness or muscle cramps. If you have a long day of gardening ahead, switch tasks about every 20 minutes so the stress is being put on different body parts.  For example, if you’ve been leaning forward for awhile your back is likely to start aching. Slowly stand up, and gently lean back a few times.

3. Be Mindful Kneeling

Avoid kneeling down on both knees. Your back will be more stable if you Keep one foot on the ground. If you have to kneel all the way down, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure on your knee joints. Even better, use a stool which is less tiring and reduces the load on your joints.  Some gardening benches have knee pads so you can change positions and move easily from sitting to kneeling.

4. Maintain Good Body Mechanics

Always protect your back with good body mechanics while gardening. Bend your knees when you reach down to pull a weed instead of bending at your waist.  Tightening your abdominal muscles and keeping your back straight when you lift and pull will prevent a strain as well.  Finally, avoid twisting your back or knees to move something to the side.  It’s best to move your feet or pivot your toes in order to turn your body as one unit.

5. Use a Cart

A cart will help lessen the load and can improve your body mechanics if you use it correctly.  You must still be careful loading the cart with heavy planting materials and always keep your back straight while using a wheelbarrow.  A cart tends to pull you forward into a rounded back, but work to keep you body upright and shoulders back to protect your joints.

The best advise I can give . . . 

Be mindful of your body. If something aches, stop and stretch it out. 

If you try these things and still have pain and discomfort, it doesn’t have to mean the end of your gardening days.  If you enjoy digging in the dirt too much to give it up, discuss your concerns with a Doctor of Physical Therapy. 

A 20-minute call can give you the answers you need. Most of all, you will be encouraged that the activities you love do NOT have to be a thing of the past.  

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