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Gardening with Arthritis: Tips, Preparation, and What to Avoid

If you suffer from arthritis, this article will cover everything you need to know to prevent pain and strain and care for your garden.
Gardening with Arthritis: Tips, Preparation, and What to Avoid

If you suffer from arthritis, you might be wondering how this often painful condition can impact your ability to do gardening. Unfortunately, stiffness, reduced flexibility, and decreased grip strength are, themselves, difficult to avoid. But this doesn’t mean you can’t adapt your activities and tools to enjoy gardening.

In this article, we will show you a few helpful tips to overcome the challenges of gardening while having arthritis. We will cover a few different important considerations, from ergonomic tools with padded handles to ways to modify your workspace and use joint protection techniques. 

Remember, it’s always important to consult with your healthcare provider or a physical therapist for personalized advice on managing arthritis symptoms. They will be able to provide specific recommendations based on your condition and overall health.

How Does Arthritis Affect Gardening?

Unfortunately, arthritis can significantly impact gardening, as it primarily affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Here are some ways in which arthritis can affect the way you work in the garden:

  • Arthritis often leads to joint pain, making it challenging to perform tasks that require gripping, twisting, or lifting. For example, it can be difficult and/or painful to hold gardening tools, such as shovels or shears.
  • Because arthritis can cause stiffness in the joints, your range of motion can also become limited – making it challenging to kneel, squat, or bend down to tend to plants or perform certain garden maintenance tasks.
  • Arthritis can also cause muscle weakness and fatigue, which can make it harder to perform tasks that require prolonged or repetitive movements, such as digging or weeding.
  • Arthritis can affect grip strength, too. Thus, you might find it difficult to hold onto gardening tools or carry heavy objects like pots or bags of soil.
  • Lastly, this condition can cause joint swelling and inflammation, further exacerbating pain and limiting mobility. Swollen joints may make it difficult to perform fine motor tasks or maneuver through narrow spaces in the garden.

Tips and Best Practices For Gardening with Arthritis

Despite the challenges presented by arthritis, many people that suffer from this condition continue to enjoy gardening by making adjustments and using adaptive techniques. So, let’s go each of these in some detail, shall we?

Tip #1: Use Ergonomic Gardening Tools

Always look for gardening tools that have padded handles. There are, in fact, tools that are designed specifically for individuals with arthritis.

So, why are these tools better? Well, ergonomic gardening tools can increase the user’s comfort and safety. They are often lightweight and have handles that are shaped and padded to reduce stress on the joints.

Many ergonomic tools also feature specially designed handles that offer a better grip. For example, they may have non-slip surfaces or contours that fit the shape of your hand, allowing you to hold the tool more securely.

Arthritis can particularly affect the hands and wrists, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced dexterity. Ergonomic tools often have features that reduce strain on these areas. For instance, they may have mechanisms requiring less force, such as ratcheting pruners or easy-to-use levers. By minimizing hand and wrist strain, ergonomic tools allow individuals with arthritis to continue gardening with less discomfort.

Tip #2: Reduce Repetitive Strain

Repetitive movements in gardening, such as pruning or weeding, can contribute to repetitive strain injuries.

Ergonomic tools often incorporate mechanisms that reduce the need for repetitive motions or distribute the effort across larger muscle groups. This can help minimize the risk of developing or exacerbating repetitive strain injuries in the hands, wrists, or other affected joints.

Tip #3: Use Knee Pads and Kneelers

If you have joint pain caused by arthritis, you can use knee pads or kneelers with cushioning. These gardening accessories can provide additional support and protect your knees and joints from strain and discomfort.

Knee pads, for example, will give you a cushioned and stable surface for your knees, in turn reducing discomfort. They can be particularly useful if you have limited mobility or stability in your lower body. 

Another good idea is to use knee cushions, which can provide an extra layer of comfort and support. They are typically made of soft and ergonomic materials, such as memory foam or gel, which conform to the shape of your knees and provide pressure relief. 

Look for kneelers that have handles, allowing you to use your arms for support when getting up.

Tip #4: Take Frequent Breaks and Pace Yourself

Listen to your body and take frequent breaks to rest and stretch. It’s vital that you avoid overexertion and divide tasks into smaller, manageable segments.

Taking breaks and pacing yourself is crucial when gardening with arthritis to prevent overexertion and manage your symptoms effectively. Here are some ideas to do this:

  • Avoid strenuous activity: It’s essential to recognize your limitations and not push yourself beyond what your body can comfortably handle. Overexertion can lead to increased pain, fatigue, and potential flare-ups. So, always be mindful of how your body feels and take breaks when needed.

  • Plan your gardening sessions: Before you start gardening, consider planning your tasks and breaking them down into smaller, manageable activities (for example, based on urgency or importance). This allows you to distribute the physical activity over a period of time and prevents excessive strain on your joints. 

  • Set a schedule: Allocate specific time intervals for gardening and stick to them. For instance, you can set a timer for 30 minutes or an hour and take a break once the time is up. 

  • Incorporate stretching and relaxation: During your breaks, gentle stretching exercises relieve muscle tension and improve flexibility. Focus on stretches that target the areas most affected by arthritis, such as your hands, wrists, knees, or back. 

  • Stay hydrated and nourished: Gardening can be physically demanding, so it’s vital to stay hydrated by drinking water regularly. Additionally, ensure you have eaten a balanced meal or snack before gardening to provide your body with the necessary energy and nutrients.

Tip #5: Optimize Your Gardening Techniques

Optimizing your gardening techniques is important when you have arthritis as it allows you to continue enjoying gardening while minimizing strain on your joints.

So, you can explore alternative gardening techniques such as container gardening, vertical gardening, or using lightweight tools to reduce strain on the joints.

Let’s see how these work in some detail.

Consider using raised beds or containers for your plants. This eliminates the need for excessive bending, kneeling, or squatting, as the garden bed is elevated to a more comfortable height. Raised beds can be customized to a height that suits your specific needs, allowing you to garden while standing or sitting on a stool or chair.

Choose lightweight gardening tools that are easier to handle and require less effort. Tools with aluminum or fiberglass handles are lighter than those made of heavier materials like wood or steel. Look for tools with ergonomic designs that reduce strain on your wrists, hands, and fingers.

Mulching can help reduce weed growth and minimize the need for constant bending and weeding. You can use weed barriers or ground covers to minimize weed growth in areas where you don’t want plants to grow.

Tip #6: Consider Getting a Garden Scooter or Cart

Garden scooters, carts, and kneelers are invaluable tools that enhance the gardening experience for individuals with disabilities.

Garden scooters provide a comfortable seated position, allowing individuals to move around the garden with ease. These wheeled devices offer stability and support, enabling individuals with mobility limitations to actively engage in gardening tasks while reducing strain on their bodies.

Garden carts are also beneficial, providing a convenient way to transport tools, plants, and supplies without the need for heavy lifting. They make gardening more efficient and accessible by eliminating the need for carrying heavy loads.

Kneelers with cushioning or padding are particularly useful for individuals who prefer to work closer to the ground, too. These kneeling aids provide support and protect the knees from discomfort during tasks such as planting or weeding. By utilizing garden scooters, carts, and kneelers, individuals with disabilities can navigate their gardens, transport materials, and work at their preferred height, fostering independence and enabling a fulfilling gardening experience.

Final Thoughts About Gardening and Arthritis

Remember to take breaks, pace yourself, and listen to your body while implementing these techniques. 

For example, you can organize your garden layout to minimize the need for excessive walking or backtracking. Group plants together based on their watering and maintenance needs to reduce the time and effort required to tend to them.

Everyone’s abilities and needs differ, so it’s essential to adapt these suggestions to your specific condition and consult with your healthcare provider or a physical therapist for personalized advice.