Gardening is a great way to keep active, save money on produce, and beautify your outdoor space. But it’s not without its risks: Awkward positions and new or repetitive movements can make gardening uncomfortable for many, and even lead to injuries. If the first signs of spring have sprung the desire to work your green thumb, follow these tips to garden comfortably season after season.
1. Prepare your garden plot. Remove stones, debris, and other loose objects from the garden area before you start working. Not only will your plants have more room to grow, but you’ll also avoid tripping hazards.
2. Invest in the right tools. A garden stool or a kneeling pad helps relieve pressure from your spine and joints, lessening the risk of back and knee pain-the most common gardening-related complaints. Long-handled tools with easy-to-grip handles also enable you to extend your reach while sitting or working in your garden while standing. Look for the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation logo, which signifies products that have been independently tested by experts and proven to make life easier for people who have arthritis and other physical limitations. Already have lots of tools? You can buy attachments to lengthen existing tools, too.
3. Maintain your tools. Make sure your gardening equipment is in good working order to avoid injury. Sharpen any dull blades or edges on tools like shears, trowels, and hoes so they’re easier to use-but do so carefully! Wipe dirt off tools when you’re done for the day. Store them in a dry place to prevent rusting.
4. Ease into it. If you’re new to gardening, it’s easy to overdo it on day one and wake up feeling stiff and sore. Easy-to-grow plants are especially good for beginners since you don’t have to commit to daily gardening tasks your first year out. Start by investing 20 to 30 minutes and adding more time as your body becomes more used to the various positions and movements.
5. Practice good form. Poor form and posture can cause muscle and tendon injuries. Focus on allowing larger and stronger muscle groups to do most of the work. For instance, rather than lifting with your fingers, use your forearms or even your elbows to carry objects, keeping them close to your body. Don’t twist your body when shoveling dirt aside. Instead, get up and move from spot to spot as you garden. Always keep the shovel close to your body, your knees slightly bent, and scoop in a forward motion.
6. Break it up. Vary your tasks to avoid staying in one position too long and overworking particular parts of the body. For example, alternate weeding, digging, and pruning with some watering or harvesting. Repetition and overuse can lead to conditions like tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the American Society of Hand Therapists, and taking care to switch it up can help you stave off these injuries.
7. Use good lifting technique. If you’ll be carrying heavy items like bags of soil or mulch, remember to lift with your legs, not your back. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the knees, and lift with your leg muscles as you return to a standing position. Ask for help from a neighbor, a family member, or a gardening buddy for especially heavy or awkward items or those that need to be transported up or down a slope. For plants that you plan to move, use lightweight plastic pots.
8. Grow “up.” The ground isn’t the only place your garden can grow. A flower box, pots, or a raised bed can reduce the stress on your body by eliminating stooping. A vertical garden, wall planters, or hanging baskets also enable you to enjoy gardening while avoiding bending and kneeling, which can be especially challenging for those with joint problems like arthritis.
9. Take it all in. Rest your body, enjoy a tall glass of water, and admire your hard work. You’ve earned it!