When the sun comes out, the gardening tools are very often not far behind. A whopping 85% of British adults do some gardening over the summer, with more than half saying growing plants and flowers is an activity that’s very important – but while gardening certainly offers its share of wellbeing-boosting benefits, it’s not always pain-free.
Gardening can be a great way to keep active and boost overall health, but the repetitive actions involved can put strain on the joints, and 89% of gardeners report suffering from joint pain, often as a result of osteoarthritis (OA).
A third of the population aged over 45 have sought treatment for this ‘wear and tear’ form of arthritis, and Arthritis Research UK estimates that by 2035, 8.3 million people in the UK could have OA of the knee – one of the most commonly affected joints.
And knees can be particularly badly affected by gardening – so as the nation’s gardeners tend their outdoor spaces, GOPO Joint Health suggests these top tips for gardeners struggling with joint pain, to help them enjoy the nation’s favourite pastime ache-free.
1. Use the right tools
Long-handled tools or light-weight apparatus can help reduce over-reaching and lessen pain from heavy lifting.
2. Switch manual for electric
Swapping certain manual tools for electric ones could make a big difference to joint pain, as repeating strenuous motions can cause joint aggravation. For example, using a hedge trimmer in place of manual garden shears lessens the harsh movements on elbow and shoulder joints.
3. Stretch it out
Stretching and warming up before gardening could help increase your flexibility and allow you to work for a longer period of time, while stretching afterwards should help prevent stiffening of the joints later.
4. Avoid crouching
Using apparatus like a gardening bench or potting table helps ease any strain from crouching or stooping, and allows you to work at a comfortable level. If you have to kneel, use knee pads, which are provided with some benches. This makes it easier to move from a sitting position to a kneeling one.
5. Bring the garden closer
If you find it difficult to bend or stoop to work in your garden, try a flower box or raised flowerbed to eliminate stooping. Raised beds, containers or planting tables can reduce the stress on your knees when you’re digging and weeding. Raised beds can be made permanent with the support of wood, brick or stone walls, so if you can’t build them yourself, hire someone to build a few. Alternatively, use pots or other containers, which can also bring the joy of summer flowers even if you haven’t got a garden.
6. Posture perfect
Let your larger, stronger joints do the work when possible, so instead of using fingers to lift something, try using the flat palm of your hand, your forearms or even your elbows. Keeping items close to your body as you carry them is safer and can put less strain on the joints, and it’s also a good idea to stand or sit up straight while you work, and change positions often so joints don’t get stiff.
7. Take it easy
When you’re gardening, arthritis pain can build if you don’t rest your joints properly. So make sure you have frequent breaks – stop and smell the roses, and appreciate how lovely your garden is.