The Arthritic Gardener

Annette Ipsan
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Gardening is actually good exercise, especially for those of us with arthritis. When done well, it can help you maintain joint flexibility, range of motion and quality of life. So, let's explore some tips, techniques and tools that can help keep you active and happy in your garden.

First are some general tips. Work during the time of day you feel best. If you are stiff in the morning, schedule garden tasks for the afternoon. Do some gentle stretching to warm up your muscles and flex your joints. (Ask your doctor or physical therapist to recommend some warm-up exercises.)

Wear gloves to protect hands and cushion joints. And protect your skin with sunscreen and a hat since many arthritis medications can make you more susceptible to sunburn.

"Less is more" is my best advice for gardening with arthritis. Pace yourself. Change jobs and positions often. Switch tasks ' every 30 minutes or so and take breaks every hour. Weed a little, water a little, plant a little and walk a little. Take periodic stretch breaks to ease tension and reduce stiffness. The key is to garden more frequently in smaller blocks of time. And if it hurts, stop! That's your body telling you it has had enough.

Good posture and movement make a big difference in how long and how comfortably you can garden. Lift by bending at the knees, not the back. Avoid pinching, squeezing or twisting motions that stress muscles and joints. If you need to work close to the ground, place only one knee on the ground and keep your back straight. Use a stool or kneeling bench to put you closer to your task.

Let your larger, stronger joints and muscles do the work. For example, use your palms instead of your fingers to push or pull and carry flats of plants on your forearms, not with your fingertips.

The right tools can make gar gardening with arthritis much easier. Use the right tool for the task and keep all tools sharp. Widen tool handles with foam tubing to make them easier to hold. (Foam. pipe insulation works well.) Use a wheelbarrow or cart to haul

tools and supplies .around the garden. And consider some of the new ergonomic tools designed to reduce stress. Long or extendable handles limit bending or stooping, and ratchet ing tools are easier on your hands and joints.

To make gardening easier, look for low-maintenance plants, especially in hard-to-reach areas of the garden. Keep your water sources close by so you don't need to lug hoses and watering cans around the yard. Better yet, use a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses.

Store tools and supplies close to your garden to lessen trips. Weed after it rains, when you can pull the nasty beasts with less resistance. And get yourself a garden buddy to share tasks that are difficult or stressful.

Think outside the box or at least the traditional garden bed to make gardening with arthritis less challenging. Container gardens reduce bending and are limited only by your imagination. Tomatoes, straw-berries, herbs, perennials, grass-es and long-blooming annuals do well in containers.

Then, look up. Vertical gardening is a great option. Grow plants on or over fences, walls, trellises or arbors for easy

access. Raised beds are among the easiest for which to care. They drain well, warm quickly, produce earlier crops, allow you to make your own soil and let you work at a convenient height.

You can garden with arthritis. By making a few simple changes, you can still enjoy the beauty, relaxation and satisfaction at the very heart of gardening.

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