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Simple tips can help minimize arthritic shoulder, elbow and hand pain when gardening

Posted on: May 3rd, 2019 by Dr. Brian J. Bear

Gardening, for many, is a springtime passion that requires patience and a lot of hard work.

Whether it’s hauling large bags of mulch or kneeling on the ground to tend to flower beds, gardening can take a toll on your body, especially for individuals who live with arthritis.

Conservative estimates show that about 54 million adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. That’s why it’s so important to prepare for gardening like you would any other form of exercise – with care and caution and special attention not to overexert yourself.

The prep work

If you have no allergies, kidney issues or stomach ulcers, take an over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil and Naprosyn one hour before you start gardening. This will decrease inflammation and pain after your work is finished.

Always stretch prior to and immediately after gardening – 10 minutes of yoga stretching is all you need.  This will dramatically decrease the chance of straining or pulling a muscle. The 5 Minute Yoga app is great for beginners: Two simple rounds of five-minute yoga, and your muscle and joints will be ready to garden.

The right tools

Always wear gardening gloves. This will protect you from cuts, scratches, and abrasion and take pressure off your finger joints and skin while working.

Wear knee pads or have a cushion to kneel on when gardening. This allows you to comfortably be closer to the ground. Wearing elbow pads will also help to protect your elbows from scrapes and bruises.

Using the right tools is also key. Well-built gardening hand and foot shovels, pruning scissors and hoes are important to avoid injuring your arms.

Doing the work

Make sure you are well hydrated and drink plenty of water while working in the garden. Gardening is strenuous and will result in a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles, which causes muscle pain and soreness. By drinking water before, during and after gardening, the toxic lactic acid will be cleared out of your muscles faster, resulting in less muscle soreness.

Be aware of your posture and avoid hunching over. You are better to be kneeling on a pad, which allows you to be closer to the ground.

If you are struggling, don’t try to force it because that’s when injuries occur. Take your time when digging out a large root. Your joints will choose the tortoise over the hare every day of the week.

Take frequent breaks to change position, and stretch your joints. Stretching every 15 minutes is recommended. And try to perform gardening in moderate temperatures.

The aftermath

After gardening, consider making the last 30 seconds of your shower a cold shower. Put the water temperature on the maximum cold temperature and try to stay in the spray for 30 seconds. This will decrease inflammation and help minimize post muscle soreness.

If pain or injuries from gardening linger, our Injury Express clinics are a great walk-in option for consultation on strains, sprains, fractures, cuts and scrapes. The urgent treatment is backed by the expertise of highly skilled subspecialty orthopedic surgeons.