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Advice from a Hand Therapist: The Joys of Gardening without the Risk of Injury

By Ann Dahl, OTR, CWC

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”

-Alfred Austin

Gardening is a meaningful activity for people across the lifespan. It can add beauty and nutrition as well as be an outlet for stress relief and a means of exercise! It can also be hard work for the muscles and joints of your hands and arms. As an Occupational Therapist I see several people each year around this time that have difficulties from performing this wonderful activity because of pain either during or after gardening. Here are a few tips that may help you reduce your risk of pain.


  • Tools with built up handles reduce the force required to hold onto the tool to complete the task.
  • To build up handles of your own tools, pipe insulation from the hardware store works great!
  • Exercise caution when using blades and machines cutting away from your body… in a split second a cut across your palm is a flexor. tendon injury and trust me you do not want this injury or the rehab that goes with it.
  • Use gloves with silicone or rubber helps to reduce grip and pinch necessary to perform a task.


  • Set a realistic amount of work to be done with time for rest breaks, 30-60 mins intervals of gardening with a rest break seem to work best.
  • Alternate activities that require work from different muscle groups.
  • Take time to stand and stretch between tasks.
  • Take time to check in and listen to your body. Don’t push through the pain during tasks.

Self Care

  • Warm up before you start heavy manual labor by walking the block or the yard a few times to increase circulation and prepare for work.
  • Keep your body hydrated especially on hot days. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin.


  • Use your arms to work within a two foot radius of your body. Keeping work close to your body reduces strain on your muscles.
  • Use the bigger muscles for the heavier jobs using your whole body not just hand and wrists.

If you overdo it…

  • Apply ice and call us at Wieber Physical Therapy! I am happy to help you and prevent further injury!

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