Gardening boosts your mood and fitness, but it can be tough on your body. The right tools and moves can reduce the stress on your joints, says Amy Wagenfeld, associate professor of occupational therapy at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. This spring, tend to your green thumb – and your arthritis – with these simple solutions.
IF THIS HURTS: Lugging heavy soil, plants and water.
TRY THIS: Invest in a two-wheeled garden cart, suggests Wagenfeld. “It’s more stable than a wheelbarrow.” To lighten the load, take two or more trips. When picking up a bag of mulch or a pot, don’t bend over; squat down and use your legs, not your back, to lift. Opt for soaker hoses instead of hauling watering cans or garden hoses.
IF THIS HURTS: Gripping a trowel.
TRY THIS: Tools with padded, curved handles ease stress on small joints. Or make your own tools easier to grasp by building up the handles with foam pipe insulation and grip tape. For pruning, look for spring-action shears that open on their own, like those by Fiskars, several of which have received the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use commendation.
IF THIS HURTS: Digging and pruning.
TRY THIS: Warm up muscles and joints with dynamic stretches, says Fei Jiang, a physical therapist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, California. Do light squats, reach your arms up, circle your wrists and open and close your hands. While gardening, stand up and stretch every 10 to 15 minutes. Alternate tasks, such as weeding and watering, to avoid overworking one area of your body. And don’t try to do too much at once.
IF THIS HURTS: Bending to plant and weed.
TRY THIS: Consider a raised planter to avoid hunching over. Look for one that allows you to sit with your legs underneath, such as a table planter. “That way, you won’t have to twist your back,” says Wagenfeld. Place small planters on tables or benches. Try tools with telescoping handles.
IF THIS HURTS: Kneeling.
TRY THIS: Use a cushion or knee pads to protect knees. Or try a padded kneeler that doubles as a stool, says Jiang. Also, make sure to use the right form while kneeling: Kneel with just one knee on the cushion and the other foot on the ground with your knee bent at 90 degrees. Keep your upper body straight.