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Getting Into Gardening

by Doranne Long, PT

When spring is in the air, it is tempting to dive into yard work and gardening.

Here are a few tips from a physical therapist.

  • Start with 15-20 minutes of any activity; stop when fatigued and avoid pain.

  • Continuing to work when fatigued may cause pain, strains, or tendonitis.

  • Avoid repetitive motions e.g. pruning, weeding, raking, shoveling; take frequent breaks. It is easier to avoid painful conditions than to treat them.

  • Bracing can be helpful; especially to prevent thumb pain, or use a forearm cuff to prevent elbow tendonitis.

  • Use good body mechanics when raking, sweeping, digging; lift with the legs.

  • Avoid prolonged bending. Try several back bends after being bent forward to decrease back pain and to stretch hip flexor muscles.

  • Stretch before and after gardening; avoid stiffness by continuing with light activities, rather than with prolonged sitting.

  • Remain well hydrated; drink plenty of water before, during, and after gardening.

  • Be aware - weather changes, changes in the barometer with increased or decreased air pressure, affects the body and can cause aches and stiffness.

  • Ice, heat, pillows, and positioning are all helpful to decrease pain and swelling.

  • Ice is nice to decrease pain, swelling and bruising. Use ice 3-5x/day for up to 20 minutes.

  • Heat is best used to decrease stiffness e.g. heated rice sock, heating pad, hot shower or soaking in a hot tub.

  • Rice sock: Put 2 pounds of uncooked rice into a long sock; tie/sew closed. Heat in microwave about 2 minutes or until comfortably warm. Can be frozen and used as an ice pack.

  • Body’s rules:

  • If increased motion with decreased pain, can continue.

  • If decreased motion with increased pain, stop!

  • Gardening, in moderation, can be great fun, relaxing, and therapeutic.


Doranne Long is a member of the Oregon Native Plant Society, Siskiyou Chapter, and a physical therapist. Author of Your Body Book Guide to Better Body Motion with Less Pain, Doranne is passionate about helping others successfully manage their health.