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Take some safety precautions before working in your garden this summer

July 29, 2015
Green Garden with flowers

Is the pain of gardening from planting to weeding taking away from your enjoyment of the popular “green thumb” pastime?

It doesn’t have to, says Dr. Julio Martinez-Silvestrini, sports rehabilitations medicine specialist and medical director, Baystate Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, who noted a little extra care can go a long way in avoiding back pain, joint aches and muscle strains.

Use the right techniques

“Just as I recommend to many athletes before any strenuous activity, I suggest doing a few warm-up exercises such as a 2-5 minute walk and gentle stretching before your garden workout,” Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini said.

Gardening usually requires extended periods of kneeling. Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini recommended using a foam pad or knee pads to help prevent knee bursitis.

“If you experience any back discomfort, try what we call a split squat by kneeling only on one knee and keeping the other knee up with your foot on the ground,” the Baystate  physiatrist said.

To avoid any back injuries, Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini stressed the use of good body mechanics when picking up something like a rake off of the ground or pulling a weed out.

“Keep your back straight and don’t twist your spine,” he said.

Also, don’t overwork yourself and take breaks, especially if any body part begins to ache.

“Changing positions every once in a while can help, too,” Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini said.

Protecting your back and knees aren’t the only considerations for gardeners, who are also at risk for hand injuries when digging and planting in the garden.

“Even minor cuts and scrapes while working in the soil can lead to deep hand infections, so using sturdy work gloves and thoroughly washing any cuts with soap and water can help to avoid infection,” said Dr. Pranay Parikh of Baystate Hand and Wrist Surgery.

“Some gardening tasks can aggravate conditions such as arthritis of the thumb or carpel tunnel syndrome, which may require a visit to your doctor,” he added.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), emergency rooms in the United States treat more than 400,000 outdoor garden-tool related accidents each year.

Safety Tips

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) and Dr. Parikh recommend that gardeners take the proper precautions to prevent hand-related injuries before digging or planting in the garden:

  • Wear gloves when working outside – Wearing the proper gloves will not only reduce blistering, but also protect your skin from fertilizers and pesticides, as well as bacteria and fungus which live in the soil. Leather gloves offer protection from thorny objects; snake, rodent and insect bites; poison ivy; and other skin irritants in the garden. Gloves also prevent sunburn and fingernail damage.
  • Watch for buried objects – Sharp objects and debris buried in the soil may cause tendon lacerations or punctures. Use a hand shovel or rake rather than your hand itself for digging.
  • Tool safety – When purchasing pruners, loppers or shears, look for brands featuring a safety lock, and keep sharp tools away from children at all times. Consider purchasing long-handled tools to avoid excessive bending and reaching.
  • Avoid products with form-fitting handles – Many tools are made with finger grips molded into the handle to provide better slip resistance. These “form-fitting” grooves, however, only fit one size of hand perfectly. People with larger hands will find that their fingers overlap the ridges, causing pain, soreness and calluses. Those with smaller hands will have to spread their fingers to match the grooves. Strength testing has shown that this spreading of the fingers significantly reduces grip strength, requiring more pressure to maintain control of the tool.

Also, it’s important to stay hydrated.

“Gardening can be quite a strenuous activity causing you to sweat in the heat of the outdoors. I suggest drinking one or two eight-ounce glasses of water before going outdoors, and to keep hydrated by drinking another glass of water or an electrolyte-rich beverage every 15 minutes while in the garden,” Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini said.