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9 Safety Tips for Healthy Gardening Practices

Cold weather is finally in our rearview mirror with Memorial Day and summertime right upon us! As warm weather captivates us all across the state, gardening enthusiasts come alive as seeds and seedlings burst from the store shelves. Flowers spring and flourish showing their bountiful colors; urging individuals to relish in the thoughts of digging and planting. Or one could say…playing in the dirt!

Gardening is a wonderful activity for the mind, body and soul. Whether one is doing vegetable or flower gardening, the rewards to the proprietor are plenty. However, along with the rewards comes hard manual labor, sore muscles, insect bites and possibly finger, hand or shoulder injuries. To help avoid such conditions and injuries, Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin joins the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) in providing nine safety tips to help prevent injury and foster healthy gardening practices. They include:

  1. 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 the soil. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 time. Also make sure to put all tools away after use to prevent future injuries. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

It is also highly suggested to perform upper extremity warm-up exercises prior to gardening tasks. By incorporating gentle stretches and following the nine safety tips, your gardening season will provide you with the rewards you deserve.

Safety tips provided by the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT), a non-profit organization with the goal to advance the specialty of hand therapy through communication, education, research and the establishment of clinical standards.


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