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Gardening With Arthritis
By William Carpay
Looking after a garden can be a problem if you have rheumatism or arthritis, you may find bending difficult or that you can't get around too well or just suffer from general pain and stiffness. Whether you have a painful hip, swollen fingers and wrists, or a number of damaged joints. You'll find ways to protect yourself from unnecessary strain by careful planning. gardening provides plenty of opportunities for healthy exercise in the fresh air and in pleasant surroundings. But if your arthritis is acting up the day you planned to be in the garden, the sunshine is beckoning for you to come out, and the pain in the joints and weakness of the muscles make it difficult to garden in the conventional way. The aim is to stay mobile and independent by gently exercising arthritic joints without subjecting them to too much stress, but overdoing things leads to inflammation, swelling and pain, making it necessary to rest completely until the flare-up subsides. So don't spend all day hoeing, a general guideline is 'a little and often'. Prolonged activity of a repetitive nature is not a good idea. For example, a short spell of cleaning out weeds on the vegetable plot should be followed by something gentler like thinning out seedlings while sitting at a workbench. I know it is tempting to carry on with one job until it is completed, but it is sensible to switch from one to another with rest periods in-between, after all your gardening should be fun and relaxing, your body will tell you how to get the balance right.
But there are a number of ways to overcome hindrances. You can use different gardening methods, change the layout of paths and beds, select plants carefully and choose the right tools. It is important to use lightweight garden tools or ones which have long extended handles. There is a wide variety of garden tools designed to make cultivation, weeding, pruning and tidying up easier. It is important to handle tools before buying, so that you can test them for lightness and balance. It would be nice if you could try them out on the soil to make sure they feel right and that you can manage them properly.

Here are a few tips to help all of us garden smarter not harder.
Do stretches before, during and after, in other words limber up those joints.
Don't do the same task for any 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.
Find a garden buddy. Buddies


can share plants, stories and garden activities.
Maintain good posture at all times, in other words: stand up straight, Don't slouch. (can you hear your mother's voice?)
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. (makes for a softer grip)
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. (I prefer two wheel carts), 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. After the initial edge is placed then regular use of a hand file will keep the tools sharp, also a drop of WD-40 on moving parts is recommended.
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.

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This page was updated on Nov 2009 and is Copyright © 2003 by Global Com Consulting Inc.

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