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Tips to help avoid gardening injuries

Monday, August 22, 2016

Many people enjoy gardening for its relaxing benefits, but it is important to keep in mind it is still a physical activity.

As with any physical activity, it must be done properly in order to prevent injuries, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.

“Gardening is made up of a lot of repetitive activities such as weeding, digging, raking, lifting, gripping, stooping and squatting,” Hillock said. “Using common sense and joint/muscle protection techniques can help minimize the potential for injury. This, in turn, will help keep you in the garden free of pain.”

The nature of gardening activities places the avid gardener at higher risk for injury than those with more sedentary hobbies.

Repetitive motions involved in gardening place stress on the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, back, hips, knees and ankles. Just as a person does some warm up exercises prior to a workout, gardeners also should stretch before heading out to tackle gardening tasks. Also, always use good posture to help prevent strained muscles.

“Gardeners also may want to consider investing in some ergonomic gardening tools. These tools are designed to place less stress on the body during use, which, in turn, can cut down on injuries,” he said. “A wide variety of tools are available at your local garden center or hardware store, as well as online.”

For the do-it-yourselfer, tool handles can be modified and built up using padded foam pipe insulation. Another alternative is to wear padded gloves like those used by bikers or weightlifters. Any of these options will increase traction for gripping and decrease the amount of muscle force needed to grip, all while decreasing the stress and strain on your joints. Tools ideal for padding include rakes, shovels, trowels, pruning shears and spray nozzles.

Hillock said gardeners also can help reduce the risk of injury simply by keeping their tools in good working order.

“Shovels, hoes, trowels and pruning shears require less muscle force to use if kept sharp. Be sure to lubricate any tools with moving parts,” he said.

After completing some stretching, gardeners are ready to head outside. One key factor to keep in mind is to change position frequently. Also, work as closely to your body as possible and avoid stretching and overreaching.

Use lightweight equipment and if reaching overhead is necessary, use a step stool or ladder. Keep your elbows slightly bent and avoid twisting your forearm. Be sure to keep your back straight, bend from the knees instead of leaning over and use a garden mat or pad to cushion your knees when kneeling.

“We’re starting to see some lower temperatures, but it can still be quite warm. It's a good idea to take a short break every hour or so,” Hillock said. “Even though you may not feel as hot or as thirsty, it’s always important to stay hydrated, so keep a bottle of water close by at all times.”

If, despite your best efforts, you get a sprain or strain, use the RICE principle (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Once injured, it is important to limit aggravating activities to avoid making the injury worse. If symptoms persist, a visit to your primary care physician may be in order.

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