How to garden with hand arthritis

If you love to garden, you’re not alone. Almost 75 percent of all U.S. households work on their lawn and garden, according to a 2016 National Gardening Survey.

While it may seem like a chore to some, working in your garden can actually be good for both your mind and body. Benefits include exposure to Vitamin D and stress relief, to name just a few.

But what if you’re one of the 50 million Americans who have arthritis? According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions that cause joint pain. Two of the most common are degenerative and inflammatory arthritis.

Degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) involves degeneration of joint cartilage, causing joint pain, stiffness and loss of mobility in hands and wrists. Inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when uncontrolled inflammation leads to joint erosion.

The type of arthritis you have determines how you manage it. But arthritis doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying a day in your garden. Getting your hands dirty without extra pain can be as simple as working smarter, not harder.

Here are some tips for a more enjoyable gardening season:

  • Listen to your doctor or therapist’s advice to manage pain.
  • Make your garden easier to access. For example, raise your garden beds so they’re easier to reach. Choose low-maintenance plants, such as perennials instead of annuals.
  • Choose tools and equipment that encourage good body mechanics and minimize strain. Examples include lightweight tools, tools with ergonomic handles and gloves to protect and cushion joints.
  • Modify your activity in the garden as necessary. Switch tasks every half hour, take breaks and ask for help if you need it.
  • When possible, use larger, stronger joints and muscles. For instance, use your forearms and shoulders to carry objects instead of your fingers or hands.
  • Listen to your body, and stop if you feel pain. Minimize repetitive pinching and gripping, as well as sustained gripping.
  • Weed when the soil is moist.

If you have arthritis that is causing wrist or hand pain, talk to a medical professional.  A doctor, physical therapist or occupational therapist can give you a personalized treatment and pain management plan.

Having arthritis doesn’t mean you have to give up growing flowers, fruits and vegetables. Protect your joints, and avoid overuse and fatigue to help keep you in the gardening game.

Originally published Sept. 17, 2017. Last updated March 9, 2020.


2Raina Lyght, MPT, is a physical and certified hand therapist with AAMG Physical Therapy. To contact her office, call 443-481-1140.

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