Gardening with Arthritis
“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.” - Minnie Aumonier
If you suffer from arthritis, you’ve probably noticed an increase in symptoms during stressful times. It’s not your imagination, muscle tension and inflammation associated with stress can, indeed, trigger arthritis flare-ups. In turn, pain and fatigue can contribute to the stress you’re feeling.
Occupational and Certified Hand Therapist, Karen James, offers these tips to protect your joints and decrease the aches, pains, and strains that sometimes occur while gardening. The added benefit is some beauty in the yard to look at this spring and the joy that comes in accomplishing a project.
Conserve energy - Use a kneeler/seat device to change your position from kneeling to sitting to standing as needed. A knee pad can be helpful if you are able to kneel. If not, a low stool or support can bring you to a higher level. Use raised bed planters for vegetables/plants and herbs. It is also helpful to use containers for your plants and vegetables. Take breaks every hour and avoid getting overtired.
Sun protection - Garden in a shady spot or under an umbrella. Wear a wide brimmed hat, SPF clothing, and sunscreen to safely stay in the sun. Be especially careful if your medication carries warnings about being in the sun. Have some water or a refreshing drink nearby to help quench your thirst.
Proper preparation - You only want to make one trip if you can, so gather all the items you may need—for example trowel, potting mix, fertilizer, plants, water, etc. Use a lightweight wagon/wheelbarrow/garden cart to safely transport your items. Think light with all items.
Joint protection - Look for implements with large and padded handles. Some tools have wider grips or spring action/self-opening features that help with use. This will prevent issues with too much stress on the small joints of the thumb and fingers.
Limit lifting - Look for smaller bags of soil/fertilizer/mulch that are easier to lift. They may be more expensive but will help you not lift excessively. If you must get a large bag, divide it into smaller amounts in pails or containers. Try to lift correctly with your legs and not your back. Ask for help if you have restrictions or are concerned about your safety.
Small garden design - Limit the amount of plants in your garden. Keep your garden space close to the house and your water source. There are coil and lightweight hoses available to help decrease the stress on your body and joints.
Change positions often - Change your tasks often after 30-45 minutes to decrease stress on your body and joints. This can help overcome stiffness that happens when in a position too long. The same thing goes with handling tools and not gripping for an extended amount of time. Try to adhere to good body posture while kneeling, sitting, bending over, or standing.
Take time to sit and enjoy all your hard work, whether it is a hanging planter or a vegetable garden.
Karen James is an Occupational and Certified Hand Therapist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, OrthoMaryland. A member of our rehabilitation team, Karen provides therapy for a variety of injuries or concerns affecting the hand, wrist, and elbow.