Gardening with Arthritis: Yes You Can!
Do you or someone you know have arthritis? Most of us know someone personally, mainly relatives, that struggle with arthritis every day. Many people with arthritis pain or limitations may think that they have to give up gardening activities. However, with a little education, the right tools, and an open mind, you should be able to garden actively while reaping the many benefits that gardening can provide.
Gardening is one of America’s most popular hobbies. In addition to the enjoyment it brings, gardening is a great activity for many reason.
- Maintaining one’s range of motion
- Bone density and strength
- Joint flexibility
- Overall quality of life
- Fresh vegetables, herbs, spices
What is Arthritis and How Does It Affect Me?
Arthritis refers to the inflammation of a joint and the surrounding tissue. The term is associated with over 100 diseases that are characterized by problems in and around joints. Arthritis is the number one disability-causing disease in America, affecting nearly 50 million people. It can impact one’s home life, job, and hobbies, including gardening. Several risk factors are involved with the onset of arthritis. Some are out of your control, such as age, gender, and genetic family history. However, other risks like obesity, certain types of athletic activity, and occupational hazards can be modified to help prevent or manage the disease.
Preparing and Planning for Gardening with Arthritis
Gardening provides many physical and mental benefits. But, tasks like bending, kneeling, pulling, lifting, and carrying can cause joint stress and pain. Before beginning any strenuous activity, check with your health care provider to make sure you are physically fit for such activities. Having a big lavish garden is not always attainable if you have arthritis. Therefore, it is wise to first determine your needs and desires, and to identify your abilities and limitations. Among the things to consider are garden type, size and location; plants to grow; and based on those decisions, the necessary tools and accessories.
Type of Garden
If you have arthritis, ground-level gardening is not the logical option. There are several types of alternative gardens to choose from.
- Raised Bed– Usually soil-filled wood, brick, or concrete block fames placed directly on the ground or other hard surface such as a patio or rooftop. These beds can go from a few inches high, to several feet about the ground, depending on the desires of the gardener.
- Tabletop Gardens– Generally large wooden or plastic boxes placed on legs to raise the garden surface to table level or an appropriate height for the user. These are especially useful to those who us a walker, wheelchair, or scooter. It is also for those who must sit or stand up while gardening.
- Container Gardens– Consists of pots, boxes, barrels, or any other portable container that is filled with a growing medium. Make sure the container has never held toxic substances. Container gardens can be placed at various heights or hung on a wall.
- Tower and Trellis Gardens– Can be placed either on the ground or in containers. Many commercial kits are available, or they can be fabricated from common materials such as PVC pipes or bamboo canes.
Size of Garden
If you are new to gardening, start small and grow your garden size as you gain experience, but stay within your physical abilities. Planning the size of your garden will depend on the types of plants you are wanting to grow. Take the time to study each type of plant’s growing requirements, space needs and amounts of harvest. Another item to consider is length and width of rows. Long rows require more walking, which may be difficult for some.
Location of Garden
Location of your garden is an important decision. The garden should be situated relative to natural drainage, exposure to the sun, storage shed, water source, and perhaps a processing station. Locating the garden near water sources and storage will reduce the time and energy.
What Plants Would Be Best to Grow?
You know what you can physically handle, so selecting lower-maintenance plants can make gardening more enjoyable. Some plants require traditional grounded gardening, so make sure you choose accordingly. Perennial plants are good options for low maintenance gardening because they only have to be planted once.
Tools and Accessories
For gardeners with arthritis, it is essential to do tasks in the safest way possible, while minimizing the physical impact on the back, knees, shoulders, arms, wrist, and hands. The tools you use should fit your individual needs. Ergonomic tools are designed to minimize physical effort and discomfort while maximizing efficiency.
- Small Hand Tools- have handles designed to keep the wrist straight. Some feature spring-assist handles, swivel grips, and ratcheting gears for pruning.
- Long-Handled Tools- permit the gardener to work standing up or sitting without having to reach, bend over, or kneel.
- Sitting/Kneeling Tools– Creating a place to sit and rest while working in your garden may relieve stress on the lower back, hips, and knees. You can use several different items around the yard.
- Specialty Tools-There are many types of specialty tools and equipment being developed to make gardening easier for everyone. Manufacturers have developed a line of tools that are especially designed for women.
Preparing for Gardening Activities
- Weather conditions/time of day- Consider gardening in the early morning or late afternoon when the suns rays are less intense and it is generally cooler. Schedule your gardening around the time of day when you feel the best and the weather is most pleasant.
- Apparel- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat and applying sunscreen, reapplying every two hours. Also wear clothing that protects your arms and legs. Use insect repellant and sunglasses.
- Pre-Gardening Exercises- It is always a good idea to warm up and cool down by stretching before and after you garden. Stretching lubricates the joints to reduce inflammation and protects those joints while working.
Always be careful and take necessary precautions when gardening. Don’t let yourself get too hot or too cold. Know when to take a break and when to stop. Listen to your body!
If you would like more information about gardening, contact your local extension office.
Jana Hart- Extension Agent- FCS, 4-H