Preventing Injuries

Yvonne Brault) M.D, contributing editor, American Rose, January/February 2020

IT IS ESTIMATED that several hundreds of thousands of injuries result from gardening activity annually, sending us in search of medical care. Thankfully, most of the minor strains and aches can be managed with rest, ice packs, and anti-inflammatory medication. With some planning and forethought and effort, more of these injuries could be prevented.

For those of us living in the cold of the north every winter, our bodies get a well-deserved rest while our roses are under their winter protection. For those of you that get to enjoy our national flower year-round, you do not get a break from the regular exercise and chores that the roses require. In the case of the former, while we are resting, we do not keep our gardening muscles in shape and our backs limber. Tackling spring pruning, weeding, and cultivating new areas, for example, are challenges common to us all. Preparing for spring garden season or the amping up of rose growing should include getting into better shape, by going on daily walks for example, and doing some regular exercising of major muscle groups. Start in the winter or a couple months before you anticipate the hard work commencing. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Once you are well on the way to getting in better shape for the upcoming season, you should incorporate daily stretching into your routine. Prior to working in the garden, you should stretch for several minutes and include major muscle groups as well as your back. Bending over and gently stretching your spinal muscles and neck and limbs will increase your flexibility and aid when reaching for that far cane. Stretching prior to strenuous gardening can prevent joint strains and muscle injury. Whenever lifting, lift with your knees and not your back! Keep muscles and joints well lubricated with plenty of hydration, and take regular breaks when working. Some gardeners take an alarm out with them and make it a point to rest every 20 minutes to avoid overdoing. Another recommendation is to change the task you are working on every 10-20 minutes to avoid excessive muscle strain from repetition. Take care of your hands and wrists especially, as these are involved in almost every task you do.

Using tools that are kind to your body can facilitate pain free work. Use the lightest pruners you can to accomplish the task. I love my Felco pruners, but I use light weight Fiskars whenever possible. There are ergonomic tools that are specially shaped and have rubber grips, so not as much strength is required to get the job done. Use knee pads for kneeling and get tools with long handles on them so you do not have to bend over so far when weeding or doing other tasks. Get yourself a five-gallon bucket to carry your tools and keep them at the ready, and if you equip your bucket with a seat you will be readily able to rest. Good gardening gloves are a must!

Another major way to avoid injury is to make sure your equipment is up to the task. Sharpen and oil your pruners and other hand tools as needed and at least annually. Replace handles and blades when needed. Take care to store your tools where they cannot be tripped on, and will not cause injury if knocked over. Keep garden paths free of hoses and other obstacles. Move uncovered rocks out of your path! Fill small holes in the path or yard or garden with soil or gravel. The ankle sprain you prevent may be your own.

Some things bear repeating: Use goggles and wear protective attire whenever spraying or using chemicals. Avoid them if you can! Also, use goggles whenever there is a chance of eye injury from flying bits while working overhead or pounding metal, etc. Stay healthy in the garden!