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Gardening with Arthritic Hands

Statistics show that that up to 97% of people over the age of 60 will demonstrate signs of Osetoarthritis in one joint or another. Osteoarthiritis is characterized by deterioration of the cartilage in a joint and is progressive in nature. Signs and symptoms of Osteoarthritis can include pain, weakness, stiffness, tenderness to touch, and deformity of the joint(s).  These potential symptoms can play a major role in our ability to engage in activities that we enjoy, such as gardening. Here are some tips on how to continue to garden even with signs and symptoms of Osteoarthritis.

Joint Protection – Due to Osteoarthritis being a progressive disease, it is important to do what you can to prevent it from becoming worse. 

  • Use larger joints whenever possible versus small joints. An example of this is to bend your elbow and carry bags on your forearms versus in your hands. The elbow is a much larger and stronger joint that can tolerate more resistance.
  • Do not apply any sideways force on your fingers. For example, using a handle on a coffee mug places sideways pressure on your joints. Instead, wrap your hand around the mug to grasp it.
  • Listen to what your body is telling you- if you are experiencing pain, take a break or find a different way to do the activity you want to do.
  • Avoid staying in one position for a long time or doing a task for a long time as this can cause stiffness.
  • Take rest breaks whenever you need them.
  • Pace yourself – do smaller amounts of work often with rest breaks in between.
  • Plan ahead to decrease repetitive tasks or gripping that may otherwise be unnecessary.
  • Use good body mechanics.
  • Complete activities that you need to at the time of day you feel at your best.

Ergonomic Tools –  There are various ergonomic tools available for gardening. These can be found in most common stores or online. 

  • Long Handled Tools- Using long handled tools decreases the demand that you place on smaller joints such as your fingers and thumbs.
  • Wheelbarrow- Use a wheelbarrow to tote items that you need while gardening such as to move soil, flowers, or vegetables versus carrying in your arms/ hands.
  • Use a weeding tool instead of getting on the ground and using your hands to pinch and pull. This will significantly decrease the amount of force that you are placing through your thumb.
  • Spring Loaded Trimmers- Using spring loaded trimmers for trimming and pruning will reduce the resistance you have to do with your hand versus using scissors or shears.

Heat and/or Ice – Using moist heat or a cold pack can help to reduce your pain symptoms.

Exercise – “If you don’t use it, you lose it!”
It is very important with arthritis to continue to use the motion that you have available in each joint in order to keep or maintain that motion. The same is true for strength.

If you feel that you would benefit from treatment of your Osteoarthritis symptoms, discuss this with your physician for a possible referral to Occupational Therapy.