By Marie Albiges, Freelance Writer
It’s finally the heart of springtime in Virginia. The sun is shining and gardeners across the region are readying their pruning sheers and shovels to care for their beloved vegetables and flowers.
There’s no doubt. Gardening is a popular pastime. The National Gardening Association found that 43 million American households participated in food gardening in 2009, and Americans spend an average of five hours per week in the garden.
That popularity can also lead to pain when hands and wrists are not properly cared for.
Why? Spending hours digging in the dirt can add up when you consider the wear and tear on your hands and wrists, said Mona Saeed, a Physical Therapist specializing in hand therapy with Tidewater Physical Therapy’s John Rolfe clinic near Richmond, Va., who sees many repetitive use injuries in gardeners, especially this time of year.
This season, take the proper steps to ensure a pain-free gardening experience all year.
Protect Your Hands
Before you go digging in the dirt, protect your hands.
And we’re not just talking about gloves, Saeed said.
Often, enthusiastic gardeners spend long hours during the first few days of spring hunched over in their yard with their hands in the dirt. Saeed said she sees 25 to 30 percent of patients in the early days of spring and summer with complaints of hand injuries due to gardening.
What hurts them, Saeed said, is “doing too much too fast” and not protecting their hands with preventative stretches.
Saeed recommends doing a prayer stretch, where your palms push against each other in front of your chest with your elbows out, to help loosen wrists. Then, while gardening, hold this stretch for periods of ten seconds every few hours.
Get Both Hands Dirty
Use both arms to do any gardening activity.
“Often, we use only our dominant hand for hours at a time,” Saeed said. “By switching hands constantly or placing both hands on a tool or in the dirt, you will relieve some of the pain caused by the repetition in the dominant hand.”
Shake It Out and Ice It Up
Periodically, literally shaking out your hands as you’re doing your work will enhance blood flow and de-strain wrists.
Icing hands and wrists after finishing a lengthy gardening activity for 15 minutes can help prevent pain from arising later.
Having the correct equipment plays a large role in proper gardening techniques.
Use proper tools with large handles to promote good leverage.
Ensure your tools are working and are strong so that you don’t compensate by overusing your muscles if the tools are weak.
Give Yourself a Break
Taking breaks every 30 minutes, regardless of the activity, will help prevent pain in your hands and wrists.
“The more you do to prevent it before it happens, the better the outcome later,” Saeed said. “If you can treat it before it becomes an issue, then it’s less of an issue.”
Followed all of Saeed’s techniques and tips and still feeling pain in your hands and wrists? Make your own appointment with Saeed today at her PT clinic in Richmond for a hand therapy consultation. Tidewater Physical Therapy also features hand therapists at its Williamsburg and Gloucester Courthouse locations. A physician referral is not needed for an assessment.
For more information, clink the link below to hear an interview on Hand Therapy for the Gardener by Marcia Miller PT, MS, CHT
For tips on lifting for the gardener, watch this short video put together by our Gloucester Clinics and friends at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.
Marie Albiges is a freelance writer with Consociate Media. Second to writing, running is her passion.