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Protecting Your Hands and Wrists While Gardening

Spring is here — with longer, warmer days ahead, it’s time to be outdoors! A great way to spend the day outside and get some exercise is to grab your gloves and hit the garden. Not only do you get to enjoy fresh flowers, herbs and veggies — gardening can also be soothing and peaceful. However, yard work can often take a toll on our hands and wrists, so it’s important to take some precautions.

Nearly 70,000 people visit an ER annually with gardening injuries, and that number doesn’t include lawn mower accidents or hands cut by sharp objects. If you’re not careful, gardening can cause strained ligaments and tendons, stiff joints and injuries to your hands. Fortunately, with a little thought and preparation you can enjoy gardening while keeping your hands safe and comfortable.

Two of the most common injuries from gardening are repetitive strain injuries and tendonitis. Repetitive strain injuries are typically caused by doing the same thing over and over for too long like weeding, soiling, digging, and planting. Tendonitis stems from a repetitive strain injury that affects the tendons that attach muscles to bones. Tendonitis can cause pain in your hands and wrists and can prevent you from doing activities you enjoy.

Here's how to avoid these injuries and enjoy a fun season of gardening:

  • Warm up and stretch before starting your outdoor activities.

  • Avoid any awkward motions by using good body positioning. Work with wrists in a neutral position. Use larger joints like shoulders and elbows to do the heaviest work

  • Wait to do extensive weeding until after a rainstorm. The weeds will be easier to pull out, putting less strain on your hands and wrists.

  • Use specific gardening tools when possible, which will reduce hand and thumb pain from repetitive pinching and pulling weeds. Look for well-designed tools with padded handles and spring-loaded cutting tools that return to an opened position.

  • Keep cutting tools sharp and well oiled, so they work as they should and require less effort to use.

  • Use the right tool for the job. Large loppers use bigger muscle groups in your arms and require less work from your hands. Choose hands pruners only for small branches that are easy to cut through.

  • If you have a brace or orthosis that was prescribed for you for your hand arthritis, use it while you garden. You may choose to obtain a second orthosis to wear for less dirty tasks.

  • Use garden gloves. They not only serve as a pad between your hand and the tool, but they can help prevent the tool from slipping in your hand, which means you don’t have to grip the tool as forcefully to maintain good control.

  • Gloves also protect your hands from bacteria and fungus that live in the soil. If you have a minor cut or skin irritation, you could easily develop a major hand infection. The gloves can also protect you from thorns, cuts and scrapes.

  • Make sure you are taking breaks every 30 minutes and stretching. Switch up your tasks to avoid doing the same thing for too long.

After gardening, perform stretches again, taking note of any sore areas on your hands or wrists. If you have pain, use an ice/cold pack on the area. If possible, try to identify the specific task or tool that can be modified for next time. And when you are done, your garden looks great and you feel good, too!


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