Tips for Pain Free Gardening


Gardening is a great summer activity, but you have to be careful to not overdo it. If you begin to hurt while gardening, it can take away from the joy and pleasure gardening is meant to bring to us. While gardening, be conscious of how your body is positioned and what tools you are using. Follow this tips below to remain pain free while gardening or talk to one of our physical therapists to learn more about proper gardening ergonomics.

Always warm-up first:

You wouldn’t play basketball or softball without warming up, so why would you garden without warming up? Gardening is a very physical activity that requires you to use your whole body. Spend at least 10 minutes getting your body warm and loose before gardening.

How to keep your neck safe while gardening: 

  • Keep your work close to you, minimize reaching, and use long handled tools instead of reaching.
  • Maintaining your head and neck in an extended position (looking up) for more than five minutes at a time will create tremendous fatigue.
  • If you must work with your arms extended out in front of you, don’t round your shoulders. Keep your shoulder blades pulled together.

How to protect your knees while gardening:

  • Use kneepads to protect your knees.
  • Ice your knees for 15 minutes after you garden.

How to keep your shoulders safe while gardening:

  • Work below shoulder level when possible. When that is unavoidable, perform the task for five minutes or less.
  • Use both arms whenever possible.
  • If you have to do work above shoulder level, then perform the task for five minutes or less; then take a break or perform another activity before continuing.

How to protect your back while gardening:

  • Put leaves and garden debris on a canvas tarp and slide it along the ground instead of  lifting it.
  • Garden in raised beds, containers and trellises to bring the garden closer to you. The closer your garden is to waist level, the less bending and the less strain you will put on your lower back.
  • Alternate sitting and standing positions at 30-minute intervals.
  • Digging should be done with intermittent breaks in order for your body to rest.
  • Bending over for any length of time can very quickly become painful to the lower back and legs, so ice your back for 15 minutes after you garden.

What you need to know about your elbows while gardening:

  • When possible, work with the forearms in a neutral position (i.e. thumbs up).
  • Keep the elbows partially bent while gardening, especially when doing resistive activities requiring elbow strength.
  • Keep your wrists straight (in line with your forearm) when pushing, pulling and grasping. This decreases the tension on your elbows and wrists.
  • Avoid twisting the forearms back and forth on a repetitive basis (example: pulling weeds by twisting the forearm palm up and then palm down). Consider using a weeder instead.

Things to keep in mind about your wrist and grip while gardening:

  • Your thumb and forefinger should meet when wrapped around a handle.
  • Indentations in tools should help encourage a neutral thumb up and straight wrist position.
  • Avoid extreme up, down, and sideways motions and repetitive pinching and pulling with the finger and thumb.
  • Hold objects with a light grasp or pinch, avoiding a tight, sustained grip.
  • Keep your wrists straight (in line with your forearm) when pushing, pulling and grasping to decrease the tension on the elbow and wrist.
  • Grip strength is at its maximum when the wrist is in a “neutral” position. People lose up to 25 percent of their grip strength when their wrist is bent.

Everything you need to know about gardening gloves:

  • Always use gloves. Not only do they protect against cuts, scrapes, chemicals and blisters, but they also provide padding.
  • Use the appropriate gloves. For example, some gloves are for working with chemicals and other gloves are used for pruning rose bushes or working with the soil.
  • Gloves should be form fitting covering the smallest area of the hand possible, without being restrictive.
  • Thin gloves are preferable even though they will generally not last as long. Too much padding will decrease the feeling in the hand and decrease hand strength by as much as 30 percent. This decreases overall hand coordination and power grip.

How to determine which gardening tools are the best for you:

  • Choose the proper tool for the task at hand.
  • Look for ergonomic tools. Just because the tool says it is “ergonomic” does NOT mean it is ergonomic for you! It must fit YOUR body.
  • Try out tools before you buy because handle size, weight, and length of spindle are all key when it comes to using a tool.
  • Telescopic and pistol-grip handles require less energy and keep the body in proper alignment.
  • Handle diameter is important. For some people, a fatter handle feels more comfortable at the wrist. However, a fatter handle will fatigue your grip more quickly.
  • Look for a depression in the handle for your thumb. This keeps your hand in proper alignment.
  • Shorter tool handles provide greater leverage control (best for small hand tools).
  • Use long-handled tools to reduce strain on your back, knees and hips instead of reaching.
  • If tools have wooden or metal handles, consider adding padded tape or pipe insulation foam. You can also modify the grip on your favorite tools. To determine the size of your grip, make a circle with your thumb and index finger. A bicycle grip, baseball tape, foam, and electrical tape all can be used to pad the handle.
  • Keep blades sharp and oiled. Dull blades require more force to get the same job done.

How to design your garden for safety:

  • Wide garden paths allow for safer walking and favor use of labor saving wheelbarrows, carts and dollies. Think about who uses the garden when designing features such as a steps, paths or ponds. A steep drop from one level to another can be an accident waiting to happen. Be careful of uneven surfaces.
  • Water weighs more than 8 pounds per gallon; so design your garden with easy access to hoses and water sources. Consider an efficient automated drip or soaker hose system.

Some final things to keep in mind:

  • Let your daily physical activity level serve as your guide for how long you can garden. For example, if you are physically active one hour a day, you should be able to garden an hour a day.
  • Even if you do not feel fatigued, take a break for a few minutes each hour. Muscles will typically fatigue in less than a half hour of repetitive activity; therefore, rotate each gardening activity with ones that require different muscle groups and different body positions. Move from an intensive task to a light activity after 30 minutes.
  • If you experience pain, stop working.


Gardening is meant to be a fun, summer activity, so follow the above tips and tricks to stay safe while gardening this summer! If you do ever experience any pain or discomfort you can always call us to schedule an appointment and speak to one of our physical therapists.