Gardening can be a pain-free hobby for people living with arthritis—all you need is a little planning and creativity.
A few shortcuts and adaptations can make gardening possible for anyone, says Heidi Sibert, a landscape architect at James Martin Associates in Chicago. Sibert, who has psoriatic arthritis, is a passionate proponent of a horticultural approach called enabling gardens.
Enabling gardens, which are used by many doctors as a form of physical, mental and social therapy, are specifically designed to be accessible to people with specific needs and limitations. They key for people with arthritis is to keep your garden within easy reach.
With just a few adjustments, you can do it on any scale and indulge your preference for flowers, vegetables or landscaping plants. Start by identifying any potential limitations, and finding a way around each one. Here are a few ideas:
Take Your Garden to a Higher Level
If you find it difficult to bend or stoop to work in your garden, bring the garden closer to you! Try a flower box or raised flowerbed to eliminate stooping. Raised beds, containers or planting tables can reduce the stress on your knees when you’re digging and weeding.
Raised beds can be made permanent, held up by wood, brick, or stone walls that will stay in place long-term. Consider hiring someone to help with the initial installation; once in place, the garden is yours to plant and enjoy!
For a more temporary or portable solution, you can grow your garden in pots or other containers. This is especially great for apartments and small yards. For plants that you plan to move, you can save your joints by using lightweight Styrofoam or plastic pots. If they’re big, fill them 1/3 full with Styrofoam peanuts, which will help with drainage and reduce their weight.
Use Joint-Friendly Tools
Long-handled tools that allow you to stand, not stoop, and easy-to-grip hand tools are gardeners’ friends. You can add attachments that lengthen tool handles to gain leverage.
Buy a kneeling pad or even a scooter wagon you can sit on while weeding. This will prevent you from having to stoop or bend, but be sure to stand up and stretch out from time to time.
You can see more of our tips and ideas for helpful gardening tools.
Practice Correct Posture
Let your larger/stronger joints do the work when possible. Instead of using your fingers to lift an object, try using the flat palm of your hand, your forearms or even your elbows. Keep items close to your body as you carry them. Stand or sit up straight while you work, and change positions often.
Take Frequent Breaks
When you’re gardening, arthritis pain can build if you don’t rest your joints properly. Stop and smell the roses and have a glass of lemonade. Well-earned, frequent breaks allow you to appreciate your garden’s beauty, plan your next tasks and get more done before fatigue begins.