Arrow-right Camera


Getting your gardener in shape

Sun., March 21, 2010

Stretching helps prevent aches after long winter

Oh, the aches and pains of gardening. After a relatively inactive winter, we go overboard working out in the yard as soon as the nice weather hits.

“Gardeners tend to push themselves,” says personal trainer and Master Gardener Tracy Lewis. “By the end of the weekend, they’ve done too much. Their body can’t handle it and then they hurt.”

Lewis works with seniors to increase their fitness levels and advocates doing stretches before heading outdoors to prevent those aches and pains. (See accompanying information box for Lewis’ favorite stretches).

“Arms and hands should especially be stretched,” she says. “When you first start gardening in the spring, you are down on your knees pulling to get the weeds out of your beds or doing a lot of pruning. It’s good to get in the habit of stretching the muscles in your hands and wrists first.”

Longtime gardener and physical therapist Craig Smith, who is the director of physical and occupational therapy at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center, frequently treats gardeners who have done too much, too soon.

“I primarily see patients with back and shoulder injuries,” Smith says. “Some have knee problems so they are unable to bend down anymore, and gardeners with arthritic hands have problems holding onto tools that aren’t well-designed.”

Smith has valuable tips to help gardeners get the most out of their hobby and avoid injury. He feels it’s important to vary gardening activities frequently to use different muscle groups.

“Don’t overdo,” advises Smith. “Set a timer for 30 minutes – or shorter if you already have physical limitations – so you will limit yourself in doing certain tasks. Use a small container for weeding so you are forced to get up every now and then. That way you’ll make yourself move and get out of bad positions.”

When carrying objects, hold them close to your body to reduce the torque on your back, Smith adds. “Bend your knees and use the big muscles of your arms and legs to lift, not your back. If you have to carry something, divide it equally between your right and left sides if possible.”

Hoeing is also very hard on the body, especially if the soil is compacted. Smith suggests watering the ground first to loosen it up.

Gardeners with arthritis in their hands should consider purchasing adaptive tools available in garden centers. Raised beds are an ideal solution for those who have trouble with their knees and backs.

Both Lewis and Smith agree that gardeners should wear good shoes when they head out into the garden. While most tend to wear their old shoes, Lewis suggests dedicating a nice pair of shoes with good arch support in them just for gardening.

After all, we might as well look stylish while engaging in our favorite pastime, right?

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at


Click here to comment on this story »