You hurt yourself how? It’s embarrassing to hurt yourself while doing what’s considered a safe pastime, but garden cleanup causes thousands of reported injuries and countless sore muscles and joints each autumn. Remember, a green thumb is good, a sore thumb (or worse) is not…
Here are 6 practical tips to avoid aches and pains while safely putting your garden beds to bed for the season. Number 6 is my favourite!
1. Be well-equipped. The US’s Consumer Product Safety Commission ranked unpowered garden/pruning tools, garden hoses and sprinklers, decorative yard features and wheelbarrows as top offenders for causing injuries. Choose hand tools that fit your grip to avoid muscle pain. If you have arthritis, use tools that are lightweight, easy-open-and-close, and with a good grasp (textured rather than smooth handles). Seek simple, practical tools that require minimal upkeep/cleaning. Avoid rakes and outdoor brooms that are too large or heavy; they need to be carried close to your body to alleviate pressure on arms, hands and back.  Keep in mind that even the best tools cause injuries if hastily or improperly used.
2. Warm up and cool down. Like any physical activity, yard maintenance requires warming up muscles – from finger flexes and ankle rotations to brisk walking and backbends – to get blood flowing and prepare your muscles for light duty. Start the work slowly and increase speed/strenuousness only after muscles and joints have 10 minutes of warm-up. Cool-down stretching isn't just for workouts. Range-of-motion stretches keep your ligaments flexible, reduce aches from muscle tightness, and help you re-energize after your work.
3. Dress to protect. Always wear gloves when removing dead plants, weeding or trimming not only to protect yourself from tools with sharp edges and tips, but to avoid soil organisms or allergenic/toxic plants. Buried objects such as metal or glass can also be lurking. Wear sturdy shoes and long pants tucked in your socks to prevent tripping and falling on uneven ground.
4. Don’t overdue it. It’s easy to lose track of time in the yard; even professional gardeners report repetitive stress injuries such as tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, knee injuries and backaches. Bring an egg timer to remind yourself to rotate tasks every 15 minutes; raking, pruning, digging and pulling require different motor skills. To relieve stress on knees, try knee straps/pads and a garden stool. Keep objects you’re pruning in front of you; stretching too far to reach them puts stress on your back. The Arthritis Foundation advises making heavy loads easier by using your largest, strongest joints and muscles to take stress off smaller hand joints and to spread the load over large surface areas; when you lift or carry, bend at the knees, and use palms or arms instead of fingers. Hold objects close to your body, sliding whenever possible rather than lifting. And ask for help if an object is too heavy for you!
5. Listen to your body. Joints still aching an hour afterward are telling you to lighten your workload next time. Check in with yourself: monitor your heartrate and fatigue level. Take frequent water breaks, and sit every so often to admire your work — give yourself a pat! And if you do feel mild pain, avoid the temptation of quickly reaching for painkilling medication. First, try a supplement with pain-reducing herbs or spices like curcumin or boswellia, and other natural pain-relievers such as glucosamine or serrapeptase available from a health store.
6. Treat yourself. Ask your partner for a massage to prevent aches and help reduce fatigue after yardwork. Soaking and soothing in a warm bath before bed relieves muscle tension, eases joints and induces sleep. Remember, it’s supposed to be enjoyable. Instead of taking the “all work, no play” mindset, and going at it with a vengeance, tell yourself that this is your spare time. And your backyard is your special sanctuary where you reduce stress and enjoy precious alone-time: take in the outdoors, breathe fresh air, observe nature, and have fun while being productive!

Article by Carol Crenna, Certified Holistic Nutritionist


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