Weeding Out Pain: Gardening doesn’t have to hurt for arthritis sufferers
Kate Lohnes April 27, 2007 – 4:02PM
Imagine not being able to drive a car, or pick up a pen, or pluck a weed from your garden. It sounds like a nightmare, but for people with arthritis, it sometimes becomes their reality.
One of the many activities some people give up at the onset of arthritis is gardening. The constant stooping, kneeling and gripping oftentimes becomes difficult for different parts of the body, from hands to knees to backs.
Difficult, yes. Impossible? No. According to physical therapists and other experts, all passionate gardeners can still pursue their favorite hobby.
“People who want to maintain their independence can still continue to do what they want to do,” said Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner. “They can do some homework to find all kinds of products that can enable them do the same things with a little bit of help.”
When gardening, arthritis sufferers should consider using a combination of special tools and techniques. According to Fortino Gonzalez, a physical therapist at Ortho Sports, Inc. in McAllen, increasing the body’s range of motion is crucial for arthritis patients who love gardening. The way to do that, he said, is through exercise and stretching.
“It’s a matter of listening to your body,” he said. “Arthritic joints are not generally painful unless you’re not moving them normally. Many people that have arthritis have no pain. Walking, cardio and resistance training can make you more resilient (for these activities). You need to think: ‘What do I need to do to garden?’ Break down your activities. If you’re going to squat, do squats. Practice that activity.”
Many people tend to be what Gonzalez described as “weekend gardeners,” enthusiasts who spend multiple hours toiling away. However, that approach can lead to big time aches.
Gonzalez recommends gardening at the time of day you feel most limber. Many people like to garden in the morning, but Gonzalez said to be cautious. When you sleep, the cartilage and discs between your bones re-hydrate, which makes them more susceptible to injury. It takes two to three hours once you wake up for this to fade: therefore, most back injuries occur within the first two or three hours of a person’s day. This can be prevented, however, by extension exercises (stretching in the opposite direction of intended movement).
Whenever you decide to venture outdoors, be careful not to overdo it.
“If you have a four-hour task, break it up,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t need to do four hours in one day. Do it for one hour a day for four days. For any activity over 30 minutes, it’s a good idea to get up and change positions.”
There are other techniques that can aide the arthritic gardener, Loverde said. One of them is employing specially-made tools. Plenty of Web sites offer tools with enhanced grips or lengthened handles, all of which can relieve strain on achy joints. Additionally, gardeners also should consider carrying their tools with them in a pocketed apron to avoid wasting energy searching for the proper instrument.
“There are pads that you can kneel on that turn into a bench,” she said. “There are also some reaching devices and pruning sticks available so you don’t have to bend down.” You can also bring the garden to you, Loverde said. Raised flower beds, for example, mean less bending or kneeling. Windowsill gardens inside the house also are easy to maintain, she said.
By using special tools, taking care of your body and consulting a physical therapist for proper exercise techniques, Gonzalez said gardening is a completely reasonable activity. “It’s just like a running program,” he said. “Everyone’s body can adapt to stress. You start small and inch your way up. The idea is to not get into sticky moments.”
Kate Lohnes covers features and entertainment for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4427. For this and other local stories, visit www.themonitor.com