Gardening Ergonomics: Keep Your Plants – and Your Body – Healthy
Summer is here in all its glory. If you’re like me, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors and satisfy that passion for growing things.
There is nothing more gratifying than watching something you planted become a beautiful flower or mature into a delicious tomato or cucumber. But all that planting, hoeing, digging and watering can be a workout for the body, and so practicing good garden ergonomics can keep you injury-free and enjoying all that summer has to offer.
Ergonomics is the scientific study of how to complete tasks in a safe, efficient way. Here are some tips to keep you and feeling great, no matter how big your garden grows.
- Schedule tasks when it’s the easier to do them. Moist earth is easier to dig than when the ground is hard and dry or heavy and wet, after a saturating rain. Plan your gardening for early morning, evening or when shade falls upon your plants. It’s easier on your body.
- Alternate between heavy, physically tasking chores and those that are light and repetitive. It’ll help your body when you change it up, and can even lessen fatigue.
- Keep tools close at hand. Using a small tote, you can easily bring all the hand tools you need as you move among your plants, saving you multiple trips across the yard.
When you’re face-to-face with the lovely green little ones in your care, remember these ergonomic tips to avoid an injury. You’ll most likely need to do more chores in the garden the next day – so you need to stay healthy!
- Don’t overreach. Move to avoid this, as it’ll protect both your back and shoulders.
- Avoid twisting. Try to face the task at hand squarely so as not to strain your back and spine.
- Use the right tools. You can make quick work of a patch of weeds much easier with a light hand tool than if you pull them all out. You’ll save your wrist and fingers using the proper spade or rakes. You can get long-handled hoes and rakes; they’ll help you avoid bending over.
- No death grip. Keep a light grasp on your tools and keep your wrist in a neutral position. Don’t squeeze hard for long periods of time; try to avoid bending your wrist in awkward positions.
- Save your knees. Squatting for a long time is hard on those joints, so try kneeling, with one knee down, and then alternate between your left and right knee. Gardening stools or knee pads can help as well.
Overhead Work and Hauling
When you’re working on climbing gardens, shrubs and trees, the challenges change, and they change again when carrying heavy loads. Consider these safety-first considerations:
- Try to avoid working over shoulder-height if possible. If you need to work on plants that are over your head in height, give yourself a break every five minutes. This will save your shoulders and neck. You can alternate arms to avoid over-using one shoulder.
- Keep tools close to your body and use both arms as you work. This decreases the stress to your back and hips. When a task makes you use one arm, alternate between left and right to evenly distribute the work.
- Take more trips with lighter loads to protect your back. Better to make three trips and not feel pain than to tough it out and end up sore for the rest of the week!
When faithfully practiced, these smart-gardener tips can help you feel better and garden longer. But we all overdo it – and if you’ve already done so – here are two ideas to help you feel better:
- Sore muscles sometimes just need a nice, hot bath or shower and some rest and they’ll be A-OK the next day.
- Still feel sore and achy? Try the RICE method:
You can ice up to every hour if you need it. Still have pain? Make an appointment to see your physician or a physical therapist!