3 Strategies for Gardening with Arthritis


3 Strategies for Gardening with Arthritis

Happy Spring everyone!  I'm excited to share this topic with you today because so many of you ask me about gardening modifications for arthritis.  There’s no disputing that gardening offers a host of benefits, but if you have arthritis-related discomfort or mobility issues it might not be so easy to enjoy if typical gardening activities such as bending and stooping, gripping handles, or carrying pots trigger more problems than benefits. The good news is that with a few movement modifications and the proper tools and strategies, you can not only still enjoy your favorite hobby, but also maintain an activity level that helps you manage your arthritis symptoms.  Here are the three strategies to keep you feeling great in the garden. 

1.  Understand Your Arthritis

Before you can garden comfortably you want to have a sense of what you can/can’t do, and what you should/shouldn't do. It’s a good idea to start by talking to your doctor or a physical or occupational therapist. Taking into consideration the type of gardening activities you want to do, which joints are affected by arthritis, and what your physical limitations are, the doctor or therapist can help you modify activities or so that gardening is more feasible and enjoyable. 

2.  Modify Your Garden Space

Once you understand your strengths and limitations, create a plan to modify your garden so it makes sense for you. Revising the layout of your garden to minimize the work it takes to care for plants is a great idea for every gardener!  Here are some garden space modification ideas for you to consider:

  • Raised Beds or Container Gardening

Raised beds offer the benefit of removing the "stooping" factor from gardening.  When the plants are at waist level, everything get easier...planting, tending, weeding, and harvesting.  The same goes for container gardening.  Containers can be placed anywhere in the garden, on the patio or deck, or even indoors.

  • Choose the Right Plants

Another way to minimize the work involved with gardening is to choose low-maintenance plants.  Less frequent watering, fertilizing, and weeding means less work.  Choosing pest-resistant plants will also cut down on maintenance.  

Keep in mind that just because you don't have to replant perennial flowers every year doesn't mean they're low-care. Most require a fair amount of cutting back, dead-heading, dividing and more. Stick with a minimal amount of the lowest-work perennials (black-eyed susans, coneflowers, salvia, coralbells and sedum, for example) and leaning more on lower-care shrubs, groundcovers and flower pots.

  • Watering Solutions

Watering your garden can be a challenging task. Operating a hose can off put your balance, and maybe you do not have the strength or grip to haul watering cans to the garden. An option to make watering easier is to put in soaker hoses. These hoses stay in the garden and are connected to your main hose. Once you turn on the tap, it goes to the soaker hoses and waters your garden.  Or, consider automatic irrigation.

3.  Modify Your Movement

Use the Right Tools

Ergonomic Hand Tools -- Arthritis can make gripping tools nearly impossible, but there are many tools out there designed to make gardening easier on your hands and body. Look for ergonomic tools, or tools with extra thick handles and a softer, rubbery material. This makes the tool easier to hold on to. Also, look for tools that have extended or extra-long handles. This can help you to stay standing while digging in your garden. Kneeler or Garden Seat -- Kneeler stools are kneeling pad supports with handles, so that you can continue doing your gardening close to the ground and also have an aid when it is time to stand up. The great thing about kneeler stools is that most of them turn into benches. So if you want to sit and do some of your gardening you can easily flip it over and use it as a gardening seat.  There are also many other stools and carts that serve as a seat in the garden.


Additional Tool Tips

There are countless ergonomically correct gardening tools on the market today, keep in mind that ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL! 

I recommend talking to your doctor or therapist about which tools will work best for your specific needs.  Here are a few additional tips to consider:

  • Invest in a good pair of padded gripping gloves.
  • Wear a carpenter's apron to keep light tools handy.
  • Widen tool handles with foam tubing.
  • Use a cart with big wheels. Load the weight over the wheel base so lifting is reduced.
  • Use wheelbarrows for only light weight loads. Heavy items in wheelbarrows can sometimes shift creating strain in the body.
  • Use ratcheting pruners and loppers because they are easier to squeeze.
  • Use tools with fiberglass handles because they are lighter weight.
  • Use sun block and wear a hat as some arthritis medications result in sun sensitivity.
  • Don't be shy, ask for help!

Use the Right Movements

  • Use the proper gardening biomechanics.  CLICK HERE to watch Stacy's Fit to Garden video.
  • Begin with less intense gardening activities and progress to more intense tasks.
  • Avoid working in the same position or doing the same activity for long periods of time. Switch tasks every 30 minutes or so and take 15 minute breaks every hour. Taking periodic stretch breaks can also ease tension and reduce stiffness.
  • If you feel significant 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 you do the next time.
  • Use the larger stronger joints and muscles of arms or shoulders for carrying instead of using hands. Carry items on forearms rather than using hands to grasp.
  • Use palms instead of fingers to push or pull.
  • Remember what your mom told you- "sit up straight!" Maintain good posture at all times.
  • Hold items close to your body.
  • Avoid doing any activities that require gripping for long periods of time.
  • Garden from a chair or kneeling stool.

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