Arthritis and Gardening
Gardening doesn't have to be a pain. If you enjoy the satisfaction of taking care of your own garden, you don't have to give it up just because you have arthritis. In fact, gardening is a great activity for maintaining joint flexibility, range of motion and quality of life. However, be careful not to do too much. The aim is to stay mobile by gently exercising your joints without subjecting them to too much stress.
General Tips for Getting Started
Before you begin gardening, ask your doctor or physical therapist about any precautions you should take. For example, wearing braces can help provide support and rest to weak or sore joints. Next, ask for advice about stretches or warm-up exercises that will loosen your muscles and joints before you begin working. This will get your body ready for gardening and will help prevent injuries. Remember to start slowly and work up to moderate or intense activity.
- Work during the time of day that you feel best. For example, if you feel stiff in the morning, save gardening activities for the afternoon.
- Use perennials and low-maintenance plants that require less care.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands and cushion your joints.
- Avoid working in the same position or doing the same activity for long periods of time. Switch tasks every 30 minutes and take 15-minute breaks every hour. Take periodic stretch breaks to ease tension and reduce stiffness whenever needed.
As you garden, be careful not to put undue stress on your joints. If you feel pain, stop the activity and wait until you feel better before continuing. If you feel pain the day after gardening, then reduce the difficulty and duration of activity the next time you garden. Your own experience will tell you how much activity is right for you.
- Protect your skin with sun block, a hat, and gloves, as some arthritis medications can make you more susceptible to sunburn.
- When possible, use larger, stronger joints and muscles. For example, use your palms instead of fingers to push or pull, and use arms or shoulders instead of hands to carry things.
- Ask for help with tasks that are difficult or cause excess stress.
- Lift objects by bending at the knees instead of bending your back. Hold items close to your body to reduce stress on joints.
- Avoid pinching, squeezing, or twisting motions. Avoid activities or tools that put direct pressure on fingers or thumbs.
Weed the garden after irrigating or rain, as moist soil makes it easier to pull weeds with less resistance. Annual weeds should be hoed while they are young and easy to deal with. An effective way of controlling annual weeds is to cover the soil with a two-inch layer of shredded bark. This blocks light from getting to the soil and stifles weed growth.
Pain in the joints and weakness of the muscles make it difficult to garden in the conventional way. There are a variety of garden tools designed to make gardening easier.
It is important to use lightweight tools that have extended handles. If possible, be sure to handle the tools before you buy them to make sure they feel right and you can manage them properly.
- Use tools such as hoes or rakes that have long handles so you avoid bending or stooping.
- Wrap the handles with foam tubing or grip tape so they are easier to grip
- Keep pruners sharp to make cutting easier.
- Wear a carpenter's apron with several pockets for carrying small tools.
- Use a wheelbarrow or cart to haul tools and supplies around the garden.
- Use ergonomic tools that have long or extendable handles to avoid bending or stooping.
- When working close to the soil, use tools with short handles that are lighter and easier to manage. Small, lightweight children's sized tools may be easier to use.
- Have a storage area or tool shed close to the garden so that tools are nearby.
Maintain good posture at all times This keeps joints and muscles in their most stable position. Poor posture can put tension on muscles and joints and lead to unnecessary pain.
- If you must work close to the ground, place only one knee on the ground and keep your back straight. When possible, use a stool or kneeling pad.
- If you normally use a cane or walker, take them with you in the garden to prevent trips or falls on uneven ground.
- Use raised beds to avoid bending. Some raised beds can be made with materials that can offer convenient areas to sit or rest while working. Trellises or vertical gardens can also be used to reduce the need to bend over.
- Place containers on wheeled caddies to make them easier to move.
Make sure the garden has a nearby water source so that hoses and watering cans don't have to be carried far.
- Use a drip irrigation system to avoid dragging hoses and sprinklers around the yard.
- Use mulch in the garden to reduce the need to water.
While the lawn is a traditional feature of garden design, if you find it difficult to care for there is no reason you have to have one. You could substitute narrow flower beds separated by paths, or pave the area, leaving spaces in which to plant shrubs or annuals.
Working in the garden can be easier if you give some thought to its layout. Assess your abilities and arrange your garden in a way that makes your tasks easier and conserves your energy.
Have Fun!Whether you sit down or stand up to garden, the important thing is to enjoy yourself. Gardening should be a pleasure, not a pain. If you keep this perspective and help yourself, you can reap a tremendous amount of enjoyment. Happy gardening!
Learn more about exercising to relieve arthritis pain.