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    Healthy Hands in the Garden
    Tips on Preventing Gardening Injuries

    A relaxing and enjoyable activity for many, gardening can turn dangerous without proper precaution as repetitive stress injuries, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome can stem from this popular outdoor activity. Additionally, simple scrapes, blisters and bites can turn into serious problems if not treated appropriately.

    The repetitive movements associated with gardening such as raking, weeding, digging and pruning put stress on the hand and wrist. Many gardeners spend hours performing these activities with improper form, which can lead to a variety of problems in the hands and arms. Warming up before gardening is just as important as warming up before a vigorous workout. After warming up, stretching exercises for the major muscle groups that will be involved in performing the task can reduce the risk of injury.

    The following arm warm-up exercises are recommended prior to gardening:

    Note: These exercises should never be painful when completing them. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Should you experience pain, please consult a hand therapist or physician.

    • Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should feel a stretch all the way from your shoulders to your fingers. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
    • Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body, but this time extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.

    • To stretch the upper back and shoulders, place your hand just above the back of the elbow and gently push your elbow across your chest toward the opposite shoulder. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.

    • To stretch the triceps, raise one arm overhead. Bend the elbow. Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and gently push the elbow back further. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.

    • To stretch the forearm and wrist muscles, extend an arm in front of you, making sure the elbow is completely straight. With your palm down, take the opposite hand and bend in the wrist downward. Then turn the palm up, and stretch the wrist backwards. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.

    Warming up by walking around the lawn or garden a few times, then taking the time to stretch, is advisable before beginning a demanding task. Poor form and bad habits during gardening can bring an early end to the gardening season. Following these guidelines is the best way to stay healthy and enjoy the many benefits of gardening.

    Additional safety precautions:

    • Wear gloves at all times.
      Bacteria and fungi live in the soil and a small irritation or cut can develop into a major hand infection. Glove choice should be specific to the specific task. Thick, leather or suede gloves may protect your hands from thorns, cuts and scrapes while pruning roses. Rubber or latex coated gloves may be appropriate to aid in grip when working in the soil.

    • Keep your hands and arms covered.
      Be especially careful if you live in an area where you may disturb a snake, spider or rodent living in your garden. You will be better protected from poison ivy, insect bites and other common skin irritants that may inhabit a garden.

    • Take a break every hour or switch to another activity.
      Overuse of repetitive motions, such as digging, and sustained/ constant gripping can cause tendonitis of the wrist and elbow or lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Break up large tasks into short sessions, with a rest and stretch break between gardening sessions to reduce muscle fatigue.

    • Use a tool when digging into unfamiliar or new areas.
      Buried sharp objects can cause tendon lacerations or punctures. Use the correct tool for the task at hand in order to avoid accidental injury.

    • Store your tools to prevent accidents.
      Learn how to use and store your tools correctly to prevent accidents, and keep sharp tools out of the reach of children at all times. Also make sure to put all tools away after use to prevent future injuries.

    • Maintain your tools.
      Keep garden tools in top working order to reduce the physical effort required as we work in the lawn and garden.

    • Use well-designed tools.
      Use tools with non-slip rubber or padded handles to protect the smaller joints in your hands. (Make a circle with your index finger and thumb—that is how big the grip of your tool should be.) The shape of the handle should provide equal pressure along the palm.

    • Avoid awkward motions.
      Using better body positioning minimizes muscle pain. Work with the wrists in a neutral position by avoiding the extremes of motion (up, down and sideways). Hold objects with a light grasp or pinch, avoiding a tight sustained grip. Use both hands for heavy activities like lifting a bag of potting soil and alternate hands on more repetitive tasks like scooping dirt out of the bag into a pot.

    • Plan ahead.
      Use a basket or large-handled container to carry supplies to the garden. The basket should be carried with both hands, distributing the workload equally and decreasing stress in the joints of your upper body.

    Professional hand therapists are highly specialized physical or occupational therapists with expertise in the delicate and essential functions of the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders.

    Call 444-5178 for more information about hand therapy at Rhode Island Hospital.

    Source: American Society of Hand Therapists