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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org

Protecting your joints when you're gardening

Back to Gardening and arthritis

Gardening is a really good form of exercise, but doing some actions over and over can lead to Swelling (inflammation) and pain if you have arthritis, and you may need to rest completely until the flare-up passes. Aim for a balance between exercising your joints and muscles to stay mobile without straining them. ‘Little and often’ is usually the best way, but switching between different jobs will also help. The following tips should help to avoid flare-ups:

Change task to reduce repeated strain on the same joints

Don’t feel you have to carry on until you finish the job. Try switching from one task to another after 20 minutes so that you rest some joints and exercise different ones for a while. For example, break up harder jobs like hoeing weeds with spells of something gentler like pricking out seedlings.

Take a break between job if you need to, and use a timer to help you pace yourself if you think it’d be useful.

If a task causes difficulty or discomfort, it may help to speak to an occupational therapist. They’ll help you to understand why the task is causing pain and suggest changes to the way you do tasks or tools that will reduce the strain.

Spread the load

When carrying items, try to spread the load by lifting with your hands and arms, rather than just your fingers. Try resting a tray of seedlings on your forearms, for example. Keep your elbows tucked in to reduce the strain on your shoulders and elbows.

Spread the load by using hands and arms.

Use a garden stool

Using a stool is less tiring than standing/kneeling and reduces the load on your weight-bearing joints. You'll be closer to the ground so you can use shorter, lighter tools. You won't won't be able to reach as far, though, so you’ll need to plan your borders around this or buy long-reach or extendable handled tools.

Make sure you can get up easily from the stool – avoid sitting too long and getting stiff as this will make rising more difficult.

Get a good grip

Slip a spongy rubber sleeve over the handle of a hoe or rake to increase your grip. This will reduce the strain on your knuckles and jarring of the joints (see Figure 2). A good pair of gloves will also help you to grip more easily.

A rubber grip protects finger joints.

Wear splints

An occupational therapist will be able to tell you if splints might help to support the joints of your hand and wrist and reduce the strain of some gardening tasks.

A wrist splint may helpful if you have painful or weak wrists, while a thumb splint may be useful for tasks that need you to have a tight grip for a long time (for example pruning).

Wearing gardening gloves over splints will keep them clean and also increase your grip.

Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary effort

If you find walking difficult, avoid too many journeys up and down the garden by taking all the things you need in a wheelbarrow, bucket or trug. This will cause less strain on your hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

You may need to get help with some of the heavier jobs, especially if you’re making changes to the layout of your garden. Decide beforehand what you need help with and what you prefer to do yourself. Make sure your helper understands that the aim is to allow you to manage your garden yourself and doesn’t take on more than you really want them to.

Avoid heavy lifting

If you can’t get help lifting bags of compost, especially from the boot of a car, think about buying two small bags instead of one large one. Many manufacturers now include handles on their compost bags, which makes them much easier to carry.

Use the correct tools for the job

Use lightweight or long-handled tools, and carry items in a wheelbarrow. Look after gardening cutters and keep them sharp so they're easier to use.

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