Now the weather is heating up, you might be looking to get back into the garden. Gardening may not seem like a traditional form of exercise, but it offers numerous health benefits such as reducing stress, improving heart health, improved hand strength, strengthening the back and improving balance.
Gardening can be challenging when you’re living with arthritis, but our top tips for not letting arthritis ruin your green fingers should help keep those achy joints at bay!
Start With A Gentle Warm-Up
You might not see gardening as exercise, but tending your garden can be a real workout for your joints and muscles. To avoid excess strain, it’s a good idea to begin your gardening session with a simple warmup.
David Vaux, Therapies Manager & Exercise Lead at Arthritis Action, says: “Always try to warm-up (“mobilise”), stretch before you start and after you finish with your activity. Remember to listen to your body and pace yourself in how much you wish to achieve per session.”
The team at Versus Arthritis, a UK charity which supports people living with arthritis, gave us the following warm-up exercises to try before gardening. “Some simple finger exercises before-hand - wiggling fingers around, making fists, rubbing hands together etc. Taking painkillers such as paracetamol or NSAIDs like ibuprofen an hour or so before someone starts gardening can also help.”
Don’t Push Yourself
Gardening is meant to be an enjoyable activity, so don’t ruin it for yourself by pushing your body to do more than its comfortable with. If you start to feel the strain on your joints, it’s okay to take a break, put the kettle on and relax with a cup of anti-inflammatory turmeric tea. We recommend you take a break every 20 minutes to avoid repetitive movements, but it’s important to listen to your body and give yourself a time out as often as necessary.
Mix Things Up
You don’t have to struggle on with the same task until its complete: not only can that be boring but it can also cause unnecessary pain to your joints. A repetitive strain injury is caused by repeated and over-done motions and can cause numbness, stiffness, cramp and pain. To avoid repetitive strain injury, it’s best to switch between tasks when you feel the need - so if you’re tugging out weeds, it’s okay to stop for a bit and focus on a less intense task like sorting out the seedlings. This has the added benefit of getting those joints moving again rather than letting them become stiff from being stationary for too long.
Invest In A Gardening Stool
While you should avoid sitting down for too long when you have arthritis, using a gardening stool can take some of the pressure off your load-bearing joints and reduce fatigue. It also means you’re closer to the ground, so you can use lighter and shorter tools effectively. Make sure you don’t stay sitting for too long, however, as it can make joint pain worse - get up and stretch every so often.
Get A Grip!
Wearing a good pair of gardening gloves can do wonders for your grip and reduce aches and pains in your fingers. Popping a spongey, rubber sleeve over the handle of your gardening tool can also improve your grip. There are also special ‘arthritis gloves’ available online which you may find effective.
Spread The Load
Instead of picking things up with your fingers, try carrying things around in your arms to improve comfort and avoid injury. It’s also a good idea to invest in a wheelbarrow so it can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you: make sure you plan in advance what you need for your gardening tasks so you don’t have to keep wheeling around the garden.
Take A Warm Bath
After pottering about in the garden, why not reward yourself with a nice long soak in a warm bath? “Hot wax baths help some people – these are treatments where people warm the wax up and then put their hands in them to help the blood to flow and encourage soft tissues to repair – this can ease stiffness and help to improve mobility,” says the team at Versus Arthritis.
“People need to follow the instructions carefully, and talk to a GP, pharmacist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist or hand therapist first before trying them,” they continue “it can be dangerous if not used properly. Putting their hand in a sink of warm water and moving them around can help in the same way – again, there would need to be a warning around checking the temperature.”