Approximately one in every five do-it-yourself injuries occurs while gardening. It’s important to recognize; however, that gardening does not cause injury. Poor gardening biomechanics cause injury.
The use of everyday gardening hand tools can cause strain, and in effect be a major source of discomfort for many gardeners. The hands, wrists, and elbows are complex joint structures that are vulnerable to overuse injury and degenerative conditions. Novice and expert gardeners alike need to be aware that poor biomechanics can sometimes result in osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, or cumulative trauma disorder.
If you’re like me, you’ve tried every tool and gadget on the market promising to make gardening tasks easier and more enjoyable. Gardeners understand each tool’s purpose, but what they sometimes don’t understand is how to use the body appropriately to OPERATE the tool. Gardeners can avoid reduced mobility, strength, and next day soreness by adopting a few simple habits when using hand tools.
Always use an angled hand grip to ensure proper alignment of the forearm, wrist, and fingers.
This is actually much easier than it may seem. For example, quickly examine the proper trowel grip. Simply take the trowel, direct the point at the target, and shake hands with it (similar to gripping a golf club for my golfers out there). Many manufacturers actually draw a map for you right on the tool. As a matter of fact, the tool I’m using in the photo is designed with what I call a “thumb rest” and a “grip stopper”. The thumb rest provides a slip resistant protruding ledge that allows the thumb to stay straight in proper alignment. Even better, the grip stopper is a comfortable hook that keeps the fingers perfectly aligned with the thumb.This grip seamlessly prepares the body to recruit the appropriate muscles of the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and neck to perform the work. If your tools don’t have this feature, no problem! Just imitate the correct grip in the photo.
PROPER FORM IMPROPER FORM
I see gardeners time and time again make the mistake of grabbing the trowel toward the end of the tool as if they were grabbing a doorknob. The wrist is immediately set up to take the brunt of the work with a little help from the forearm and elbow joint. Not to mention, what do we do with doorknobs? Twist! The very motion we should avoid while gardening.
General Hand Tool Tips
- Complete a gardening warm-up wrist, arm and shoulder stretches (sign up for the Garden for the Health of It newsletter on the home page and receive my FREE Fit to Garden guides)
- Begin with easier gardening tasks and progress to more difficult projects
- Take your time and use mindful movement
- Don’t spend too long in one position, be sure to alternate tasks
- Wear gloves for extra cushion
- Perform post-gardening wrist, arm and shoulder stretches (sign up for the Garden for the Health of It newsletter on the home page and receive my FREE Fit to Garden guides)
- Stop when you’re tired, that’s when most gardening injuries occur
Spending just a few moments concentrating on these guidelines will enhance body awareness and protect gardeners from unnecessary injury. While you’re chipping away on those gardening projects and performing mindful movement, you will also be burning approximately 200 calories every 30 minutes.