Gardening 101

How to Avoid Garden Injuries

Emergency room sign

Spring can be a dangerous time of year for gardeners, suggested by the fact that the Center for Disease Control states a third of emergency room visits occurs in the spring. Dr. John Harrelson, retired orthopedic surgeon and a Durham County Master Gardener, explains there are three things gardeners can do to avoid injuries when we head back to our gardens this year.


Gardening is a great way to stay in shape, but curling up to read garden catalogs over the colder months doesn’t offer many physical benefits. So keep up with a regular exercise program to help keep muscles toned. When you do head back outside to your garden warm up your muscles with gentle stretching before you tackle heavy projects. Don’t try to tackle everything all at once. Rotate through a variety of different tasks to avoid injuries resulting from repetitive motions.

Garden Environment

Ensure your garden has clear walkways and adequate room for tools, materials, and for you to move around. Attempting to move heavy things in a tight space creates opportunities for injuries. Walkways and uneven surfaces can be treacherous when wet; hardscape can shift during winter, and accumulated debris can conceal tripping hazards.

Proper Tools

Select the right tool for the job. Rusty or dull cutting tools require you to exert more force to accomplish your task. Improperly serviced power tools are harder to start come spring and can result in shoulder injuries. Handles should fit comfortably in the palm of your hand where your grip strength is greatest, and their design should allow you to keep your wrist in a neutral position. Winter months are a good time to have power tools serviced and to clean and sharpen hand tools.

Regular Exercise

This provides benefits beyond staying garden ready. Jennifer Wrigley, director of wellness for an area community, outlined the following fitness strategies.

Warm Up: Inactive muscles contract and when we are in a cold environment our muscles contract. The more pliable our muscles are the easier it is to move without injury. Begin any exercise, including heading out to the garden, by gently stretching. Start with small movements and gradually work up to larger movements. Ten minutes of stretching could prevent hours of discomfort later.

Gradual: Start with small goals and gradually increase your exercise intensity and duration as you build capability. Just like our gardens, it takes time for us to develop our muscle tone.

Accountable: Meeting your fitness goal is easier if you are accountable to someone else. Knowing that you will need to report your results, or lack thereof, is a great motivator and people report better results if they work with a coach or exercise buddy.

Try these indoor exercises for gardeners. Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase as you gain strength. Repeat 5 to 10 times and increase repetitions over time. Ensure all motions are slow and controlled.

Deadlift: Keeping your back straight and stomach muscles pulled in, bend at the waist. Go down as far as you can, reaching for your toes. Come back up into a standing position. You can make this more challenging by picking up an object 5, 8, or 10 pounds. Mimics weeding.

Upright Row: Bend at the waist, support yourself with your arm and in the opposite arm hold something that is 5, 8, or 10 pounds. Pull that weight up from the floor towards your hip. Mimics starting a gas engine power tool.

Carry Weight: Carry an object 5, 10, or 15 pounds around the house. Alternatively you can add weight to a backpack and carry that around. Do not put weights on ankles or wrists. Mimics hauling mulch or plants.

Shoulder Press: While holding a soup can or medium weight object at shoulder level, push your hands up from your shoulders as high as you can, hold, and return the object to shoulder level. Mimics pruning.

Exercising common sense goes a long way in staying safe. Use tools as they are intended and always follow the manufacturer’s directions for application and protective equipment when using chemicals in your garden.

You can learn more about how to avoid gardening injuries on the Triangle Gardener podcast sponsored by Garden Destinations.

Featured image by Dr. Lise Jenkins.

Dr. Lise Jenkins is the Triangle Gardener’s podcast producer and a newspaper columnist. She also volunteers her time as a Master Gardener in Durham.

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