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Gardening season is here!

In support of the Master Gardener’s plant sale this Saturday, May 21st at the UW Extension, we would like to provide you with a few helpful hints in gardening practices.

The warm weather is here! Gardner’s around the country anxiously wait for this season to begin!  Digging into Earth’s soil and the anticipation of the most bountiful garden takes over the soul of the Gardner. However, with this passion comes the demand of physical activities and injuries to the hand and upper extremity. Keep in mind some of these hopeful tips brought to you by The American Society of Hand Therapy (ASHT) as we jump into this outrageously awesome weekend forecast.

ASHT recommends following these upper extremity warm-up exercises prior to gardening:

Note: These exercises should never be painful when completing them. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Should you experience pain, please consult a hand therapist or physician.
• Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should feel a stretch all the way from your shoulders to your fingers. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
• Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body, but this time extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
• Place your hand just above the back of the elbow and gently push your elbow across your chest toward the opposite shoulder. This is a stretch for the upper back and shoulder. Stretch both the right and left arms.  Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
• Raise one arm overhead. Bend the elbow. Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and gently push the elbow back further. This is a stretch for the triceps. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
•    Extend an arm in front of you, making sure the elbow is completely straight. With your palm down, take the opposite hand and bend in the wrist downward. Then turn the palm up, and stretch the wrist backwards. This stretches the forearm and wrist muscles. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.

ASHT released professionally designed guidelines to prevent injury and foster healthy gardening practices:

•    Wear gloves at all times. Bacteria and fungus live in the soil and a small irritation or cut can develop into a major hand infection. Glove choice should be specific to the specific task. Thick, leather or suede gloves may protect your hands from thorns, cuts and scrapes while pruning roses. Rubber or latex coated gloves may be appropriate to aid in grip when working in the soil.
•   Keep your hands and arms covered.  Be especially careful if you live in an area where you may disturb a snake, spider, or rodent living in your garden.  You will be better protected from poison ivy, insect bites and other common skin irritants that may inhabit a garden.
•   Take a break every hour or switch to another activity. Overuse of repetitive motions, such as digging, and sustained/ constant gripping can cause tendonitis of the wrist, elbow or lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Break up large tasks into short sessions, with a rest and stretch break between gardening sessions to reduce muscle fatigue.
•   Use a tool when digging into unfamiliar or new areas. Buried sharp objects can cause tendon lacerations or punctures.  Use the correct tool for the task at hand in order to avoid accidental injury.
•   Store your tools to prevent accidents. Learn how to use and store your tools correctly to prevent accidents, and keep sharp tools out of the reach of children at all times. Also make sure to put all tools away after use to prevent future injuries.
•   Regular/ Periodic tool maintenance.  Keep garden tools in top working order to reduce the physical effort required as we work in the lawn and garden.
•  Use well designed tools:  Use tools with non-slip rubber or padded handles to protect the smaller joints in your hands. Make a circle with your index finger and thumb–that is how big the grip of your tool should be. The shape of the handle should provide equal pressure along the palm.
•    Avoid awkward motions. Using better body positioning minimizes muscle pain. Work with the wrists in a neutral position by avoiding the extremes of motion (up, down and sideways). Hold objects with a light grasp or pinch, avoiding a tight sustained grip. Use both hands for heavy activities like lifting a bag of potting soil and alternate hands on more repetitive tasks like scooping dirt out of the bag into a pot.
•    Plan ahead. Use a basket or large handled container to carry supplies to the garden. The basket should be carried with both hands distributing the workload equally and decreasing stress in the joints of your upper body.

The American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) is a non-profit organization with the goal to advance the specialty of hand therapy through communication, education, research and the establishment of clinical standards.  ASHT’s nearly 3,000 members in the United States, Canada and around the world strive to be recognized leaders in the hand therapy profession.  For more information about hand therapy, visit

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