When the spring season is in full bloom, many of us are eager to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. Gardening is a great excuse to spend time outdoors in the splendor of nature. The garden can be a sanctuary where life’s stresses can be put aside for a while. While gardening is an enjoyable pastime, it can also place you at risk for injury, most especially to your hands. It is important to protect your hands while working in the dirt and enjoying your time in the garden. The American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) and a local certified hand therapist offer the following tips to protect your hands and to prevent injuries while gardening:
- Warm up and stretch before starting your outdoor activities.
- Wear gloves. Bacteria and fungus live in the soil. If you have a minor cut or skin irritation, you could easily develop a major hand infection. The gloves can also protect you from thorns, cuts and scrapes.
- Keep your hands and arms covered and use sun screen. Keeping these areas covered will protect you from the sun, from insect bites, poison ivy and other skin irritants. Be especially careful if you live in an area where you might disturb a spider, snake or small rodent.
- Use an appropriate tool when digging in an unfamiliar or new area. A buried sharp object could cause serious lacerations or punctures which could injure tendons, vessels or nerves.
- Use wide-handled tools. Tools with padded or thicker handles will protect the smaller joints in your hands and will decrease the need for excessive gripping.
- Avoid sustained/constant gripping and awkward motions. Working with your wrist in a more neutral or straight position and avoiding repetitive motions can prevent pain from nerve irritation and tendonitis.
- Store your tools to prevent accidents. Learn how to use and store your tools correctly to prevent accidents from sharp edges, or falls from tripping over tools.
- Take a break every hour or switch to another activity. Repetitive motions such as digging can cause tendonitis of the elbow or wrist. Break up large tasks into short sessions. Take a rest or stretch break between sessions.
- Don’t sit back on your heels. Bending your knees this far is not only a stressful position for the knees, but it requires you to push most of your body weight up with your hands and wrists, placing increased pressure on these joints as well. Use a gardening stool or bench when possible.
- Know the signs of a hand infection: severe throbbing pain, high fever, swelling and redness, movement of the fingers produce excruciating pain. If you experience even two of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Beth Little is a Physical Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist at OrthoCarolina Matthews.