by Kristina Hughes, Clear Creek County Master Gardener
Gardening can be hard work. How many times have you gotten consumed with a project and worked yourself to exhaustion? I’ve mentioned in my previous blogs that I work as a gardener and I can attest to the wear and tear on my body. I am always looking for ways make things easier and do tasks more efficiently. There are so many benefits to gardening efficiently: your body feels better, you can more work done, the work is more pleasant, you can get closer to the garden you want with less effort.
It so happens that there is whole field of study devoted to exactly this issue: ergonomics. The definition of ergonomics is ‘an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that people and things interact most efficiently and safely ‘ (Merriam-Webster). I had the opportunity to google ‘gardening ergonomics ‘ recently and found a bunch of information which I am excited to try out next season.
Resist the temptation to push limits. It’s so easy to say to yourself ‘I’ll just stretch a little farther to reach that plant’ or ‘I can squeeze a little harder to cut this one branch that’s too big for my pruner’. It doesn’t hurt in the moment (usually), but I try to remind myself that it will hurt later. It may feel easier in the moment to use the tool in your hand rather than stopping to get the bigger one, but tomorrow’s work will be harder because your body will have taken the extra strain. Take the long view and pace yourself.
Keep joints in alignment for the most power and the least strain. Research has shown that twisting your wrist can result in a loss of 25% of your power. Avoid reaching and other awkward positions.
Allow the tool to do the work. Sharp tools require less less effort (and do less damage to the plant). And choose the right tool for the task rather than forcing it.
Alternate tools and body positions to minimize strain. Consider using ambidextrous tools which can be switched between right and left sides of the body. I have started doing simple tasks like weeding with my non-dominant hand in order to distribute the workload across both sides of my body. And I am experimenting with ambidextrous pruners.
Consider modifying the handles and grips on your tools. Pistol-style grips are easier on your hands.
Here are some other resources which can help you customize for your situation:
Arthritis and Farming article from CO-Horts blog January 15, 2018
Excellent advice from physical therapist, organized by body part
Accessible Gardening flyer from West Virginia University