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Gardening isn’t an extreme sport – but it can cause back pain, hand and knee injuries

6 tips to avoid getting hurt while planting, tending and harvesting your garden

June 22, 2017

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If you’re a gardener, one of the best parts about summer is having a chance to get outside, dig in the dirt and watch your garden grow and bloom. Injuries may not be the first thing on your mind when you set out to garden, but they’re definitely something you want to look out for.

Each summer, TRIA Orthopaedic Center treats patients who have suffered a handful common gardening injuries. Some come in with back pain from bending and pulling weeds. And some have hurt smaller muscles in their hands, wrists, arms and knees due to the repetitive movements of raking, weeding, digging and pruning.

Sports medicine physician Michelle Gorman-McNerney, MD, CAQ, and hand therapist Nicole Hasson, MA, OTR/L, CHT, say carpal tunnel syndrome, de Quervain syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome, carpal-metacarpal osteoarthritis and tennis elbow can all be common in people who garden. But they say there are best practices for garden safety that can help you avoid these conditions.

Here are their 6 tips for having a safe gardening experience this season:

  1. Move your body correctly. Be sure to practice good lifting habits by keeping heavy things close to your body and using your knees instead of your back to lift. Try joining a strength program to keep your core and other muscles strong to avoid injury. Also, take the pressure off your back. Instead of bending at the waist, try squatting down or kneeling on a knee pad while gardening or pulling weeds.
  2. Warm up before gardening, and stretch after. Before starting your garden project, take a walk around to warm up your muscles and get them ready for working. Once you’re finished, try some stretches as a cool down activity.
  3. Take your time. Don’t feel like you have to get all your work done in one sitting or day. Listen to your body. If you need a rest or stretch break, make sure you stop and take one. Spreading your hardest projects out over a few days is a good strategy. This will lessen the stress on joints, muscles and nerves.
  4. Use helpful equipment. Take advantage of some of the great gardening equipment that’s out there! Be sure to wear gloves to protect yourself from scrapes and bites that could lead to infection. And opt for tools that are lightweight, have soft grips and/or are specifically designed to be easier on your body.
  5. Drink plenty of water. When you’re gardening in any weather, carry a water bottle with you and drink from it throughout the day to stay hydrated. If possible, avoid gardening during the warmest part of the afternoon (between noon and 3 p.m.) to protect yourself from heat-related illness.
  6. See a doctor if you do experience an injury. If you think you’ve been injured while gardening, seeing a sports medicine doctor is a good place to start. Pain that limits activity should be addressed as soon as possible.

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