If you garden, you’re well-aware of the benefits you get from this activity – fresh produce to nourish your body, flowers to delight your senses, and an attractive landscape to please your eye and increase your property’s value. On the health side of things, you get fresh air and exercise, as well as a wonderful distraction to help reduce stress.

Hose nozzle

An ergonomic hose nozzle with finger grips and a lock can keeps the water coming without having to continually squeeze the trigger.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Lee Appleton

Ergonomic pruners

Ergonomic pruners, made for the length and width of an individual’s left or right hand, feature curved handles that mold naturally into your hand.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Lee Appleton

Trake

My favorite two-in-one tool is the Trake (a hand trowel and rake combined). When digging, there is a rest area for your thumb, as well as molded grips on the light-weight aluminum handle for your fingers.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Lee Appleton

Trake flip side

Flip the Trake over, and the trowel serves as an arm rest as you rake.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Lee Appleton

What you might not be aware of, however, is the fact that some of the tools you use, and some of the motions your body performs while gardening, may be injurious. When you garden, your attention is generally focused on the health of your plants. Now is the time, however, to focus some of that attention on your own “horticultural health.”

How do you know if gardening is hurting you? Simply answer a few questions. Have you ever come in from a day of gardening – during which you’ve raked or shoveled or mowed or pruned – only to find that not only are you tired, but you’re in pain? Maybe you feel it in a few fingers or your wrist or an elbow? Did you just dismiss that pain, or perhaps numbness, as the price you pay for gardening?

Well, don’t. That pain or numbness may be a symptom of a repetitive motion injury (RMI) that, if ignored, may reduce your ability to garden. The RMI most commonly diagnosed in gardeners is carpal tunnel syndrome.

To stay healthy and ward off RMIs, what you need to do is integrate some “horticultural ergonomics” into your gardening routine. That means making sure you use the right tools, as well as modifying or designing gardening sites and activities to suit your body rather than forcing yourself to adapt to the design of the garden or tools.

There are a few simple things you can do to get yourself on the garden path toward good horticultural health. None are very hard to do, and they’re certain to help you enjoy your landscape for years to come.

  • Vary your gardening activities, as well as the motions or tasks within each activity.
  • Take frequent rests from gardening activities, such as raking and pruning, which involve repetitive motions.
  • Use correct postures for all of your gardening tasks. Don’t hyperextend (bend backward) or hyperflex (bend forward) your wrists.
  • Use more “gardener-friendly,” ergonomically designed tools. Look for tools that:
    • Conform to your body – especially the size and shape of your hand. Are lighter in weight (like aluminum or plastic composites) than wood or steel. Have tool handles with finger molds or depressions into which to rest your thumb.
    • Have handles that are larger and covered with padding or plastic for softness and anti-slip features.
    • Fit the size of your hand and have bypass blades that are made for the hand you prune with (yes, there are left-handed pruners)
    • Have locks or buttons to take pressure off you, such as a sprinkle head that keeps the water flowing as long as you need it with a push of a button.

There are many tools that make gardening better for your body as well as your soul. Make gardening fun again, and be sure to take good care of yourself!