How to Garden Safely
At first glance, planting a few flowers in the yard may seem like a low-risk activity. However, every year, gardeners are caught off guard by a slew of injuries from nagging back pain to sore wrists.
Sarah Thomas of Thomas Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, Daytona Beach, Florida, says, “Many times you will see a gardener bent over at the waist with their rear end up in the air and their hands down at the ground where all the stress of bending is coming through the spine instead of the legs.”
Thomas attributes most gardening injuries to “poor body mechanics.” Other gardeners start out with good posture, but grow tired. “They fatigue and end up getting sloppy and hurting themselves.”
Bruce Baker, owner of Radius Garden, Ann Arbor, Michigan, is familiar with this problem. Baker says, “I’ve been a gardener and landscaper all my life, but as I got older, I noticed that I – and other people that I knew – had problems with their hands and wrists.”
“On a flight to China, a woman that I was traveling with had blisters and torn-up skin on her hands,” Baker says. “All she had been doing was planting a regular flower bed with a standard garden trowel. That’s what inspired me to design a better garden tool.”
Baker, a former software executive, designs the majority of Radius Garden’s product line himself.
When selecting tools, he recommends gardeners look for tools that keep hands, forearms, and wrists in a natural position. “You want to hold your hand in a comfortable fist with your wrist in a neutral position. There are a variety of different tools out there, but ours follow a very simple curvature that allows you to use the tools in an ergonomic way.”
Baker’s favorite product is always the one he’s working on now. In 2016, he is releasing a new line of cutting tools, sprinklers and nozzles.
Baker is particularly proud of the weeder he designed. “A lot of weeders that are out there snap the root or pinch the root. Our tools are like giant reinforced knives, and you can dig out an incredibly deep root with them.”
Dan Cunningham, senior design engineer at Fiskars, is also busy making better tools. “Ergonomics is important for everything that humans interact with, especially for activities that are done in a repetitive manner,” he says.
Pruning is a task that often leads to strain. “For a pruner, consumers should make sure that they don’t have to stretch their hand in order to open the tool wide enough to cut branches,” Cunningham says.
“Stretching can lead to fatigue and is a sign that the pruner is too big.”
Cunningham has a few tips for selecting tools. “For raking, digging or weeding, it is important to use a tool that is the right length to help keep the body in a more natural position. Pay attention to the weight and size of the tool, as well as how it fits in your hands. The keys to avoiding back pain and over-use injuries are to try to stay within a comfortable range of motions.”
Thomas tells her patients to “start off with short periods of gardening and give their bodies 24 to 48 hours to respond in case it becomes painful.” Thomas encourages gardeners to “train for this activity just like they would a sport” and to take frequent breaks.