The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Gardening with Arthritis

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

I recently spent a day with a great bunch of folks attending the Arthritis Foundation's Impact Arthritis 2004.

I spoke to them about gardening and arthritis. I shared how gardening is good for all of us mentally and physically.

Gardening reduces stress. If it doesn't, than you need to reevaluate your gardening. Gardening also helps to maintain joint flexibility and range of motion. I guess it's the adage "use it or lose it."

Here are a few tips to help all of us garden smarter not harder.

  • Do stretches before, during and after.
  • Avoid doing the same task for more than 30 minutes.
  • Take regular breaks. Actually sit on your garden bench.

When using your muscles - think big.

  • Use the larger stronger joints and muscles of arms or shoulders for carrying instead of using hands. Carry items on forearms rather than using hands to grasp.
  • Use palms instead of fingers to push or pull.
  • Enlist a garden buddy. Buddies can share plants, stories and garden activities.
  • Remember what your mom told you- "sit up straight!" Maintain good posture at all times.
  • Hold items close to your body.
  • Avoid doing any activities that require gripping for long periods of time.
  • Garden from a chair or kneeling stool.

Garden techniques can reduce effort.

  • Use wood mulch to reduce weeding and watering.
  • Install drip irrigation or soaker hoses in garden beds and containers.
  • If bending or kneeling is difficult, than bring the garden up to you. Use containers on wheels, window boxes, hanging baskets, trellises or raised beds.

Gardening smarter not harder may be a matter of selecting the right tools for the job.

  • Invest in a good pair of gloves. Gripping gloves come with elastic band to maintain the grip.
  • Use sun block, hat and gloves, especially with some arthritis medications.
  • Wear a carpenter's apron.
  • Use ergonomic tools that have long or extendable handles.
  • Widen tool handles with foam tubing used to cover pipes.
  • Use a wheeled chair or "scoot seat" designed for garden use. Test drive one if possible. Depending on what mulch you use, you may find these seats don't scoot very well.
  • Use a cart with big wheels. Load the weight over the wheel base so lifting is reduced.
  • Use wheelbarrows for only light weight loads. Loads in wheelbarrows can sometimes shift and possibly jerk your back into unnatural positions.
  • Keep tools sharp. Some new tools such as hoes and shovels do not come with a sharpened edge. The first edge should be put on with a wheel grinder by someone with experience. Many tools are tempered steel and if the edge gets too hot from grinding, it can ruin the temper. After the initial edge is placed then regular use of a hand file will keep the tools sharp.
  • Ratcheting pruners and loppers require less strength.
  • Fiberglass handles are lighter weight.
  • There are many styles of hand tools designed to use the shoulder rather than wrist and hands.
  • Choose low maintenance plants. Perennials come back every year once planted. Annual flowers do not require digging as big a hole initially but has to be done every year. Most perennials will need to be divided after awhile which again requires digging. If you have limited strength and ability to dig, annuals may be better. Spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils are good due to their lack of care once planted.
  • Add small flowering shrubs to flower beds.

Visit the Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe to see a beautiful garden and gain some tips to garden smarter not harder.

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