Tips for gardening with arthritis

26 April 2021
Penny sat down in her garden having a cuppa and raking leaves.
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The sun is out, and the sky is blue, so it’s the perfect time to get stuck into the gardening. Spending some time outside on these longer and lighter days can help our wellbeing too. It's a chance to enjoy nature, plant some seeds, watch the birds and boost your vitamin D.

Gardening is rewarding, it’s a great form of exercise, a positive distraction activity - and there are ways you can make gardening easier by changing the way you do it.

Find out what might work for you and your garden by reading our advice and some top tips from Penny – a successful self-employed gardener, who has osteoarthritis in her hands.

Pace yourself

Listen to your body. Take breaks every 20 minutes and change tasks regularly to avoid repetitive movements. Also avoid over-stretching and holding your body in an awkward position.

Think about the time of day you garden. Some people need time in the morning for their joints to become less stiff and painful, so it might be better for you to head out into the garden in the afternoon or late morning.

Take a seat if it helps and don’t forget to take regular breaks to avoid putting your body under stress.

Choosing the right equipment

There are a wide range of easy grip tools available to help you garden and you can adapt tools you already have with add-on handles and grips. Long-handled tools prevent you over-stretching, while kneeling pads are the perfect way to take the strain off your knees.

Check out the garden tools from Arthr, you can get an easy-grip trowel and garden fork which are designed to minimise the pressure on your wrists and hands.

Planning your garden

Everyone’s garden is different and there are many ways that you can enjoy low-maintenance gardening.

If you don’t have raised beds for any reason, inverted pots with another on top can help to raise them a bit higher. To help with stability a stick can be pushed through both drainage holes before planting to help them stay in place.” Andrew, Versus Arthritis Facebook

Choose a fence instead of hedge, plant hardy perennials rather than bedding plants, go for raised beds or containers to avoid overstretching. You could consider swapping your lawn for gravel and putting down bark on your borders to cut down on weeding.

Spreading the load

When carrying things, try to spread the load by using your arms rather than fingers, which are more likely to get injured. Try to avoid heavy loads and plan your work to minimise fatigue.

For example, use two small bags of compost rather than one big one, think about what you need, and use wheelbarrows to avoid unnecessary trips to and from your garage or shed.

Make the most of your windowsill

If you don't have a garden, you can add greenery to your home with house plants and grow herbs on your windowsills in trays. Try anything from mint, parsley to coriander and you can use these to spice up your cooking. Pea shoots are another really easy one to grow and these can be used in salads.

Penny’s gardening tips

Penny hasn’t let osteoarthritis in her hands stop her from gardening, but she has changed the way she does some things. Here she shares her top tips:

1. Invest in good hand supports

I wear hand supports and they hold the thumb in its natural position to take the pressure off. It makes such a difference. I wouldn’t be able to garden without them. If I am doing anything like strimming, which vibrates I wear thicker leather gloves to take the vibration.

2. Mix up your jobs

If I’m doing some work with secateurs, I stop after a bit and I do some hoeing, and then I stop and do some digging, and then I stop and do some raking. This is so I’m not doing the same repetitive action. That seems to minimise the pressure on my joints.

3. It’s OK to get help

I try to recognise if something is too much. I might look at a job and say ‘no, I can’t do it’. This means I stop myself hurting or damaging my joints.

It’s OK to get professional help for the repetitive and heavy work to leave time for the more enjoyable aspects of gardening.

4. Have a relaxing routine after a day’s work

After a day of work, I have a hot bath and rub hand cream into my hands and into my joints. I find massaging my joints helps.

Read Penny's story in full.

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