Handy Tools for Hand-Conscious Gardening

African American Grandma and granddaughter gardening together

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If you read our recent blog post, 5 Tips for Pain Free Gardening, you may have picked up a few new ideas to incorporate into your gardening routine. As a hand therapist and occupational therapist, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the world of adaptive tools. The phrase “work smarter, not harder” definitely applies when it comes to working with hand tools, and there are some key principles to follow to ensure good hand ergonomics. It might be a good idea to look through your tool shed and weed out any tools that might be causing hand pain.

General Principles for Ergonomic Tools

  • Built-up handles
    • Look for tools with a larger grip that fit comfortably in your hand. Make a circle with your index finger and thumb slightly overlapping – that is about how big the grip on your tools should be. The shape of the tool handle should provide pressure that is evenly distributed throughout your palm. A curved or cushioned handle is even better to help absorb some of the force.
    • Try foam tubing, tennis racket tape, or bicycle handlebar tape wrapped around the handle of a tool you already have. This makes it cushier and easier to hold. A built up and curved handle also gives you several options for how to hold it. This can help you maintain a neutral wrist and prevent strain.
an older Black couple working on planting flowers in their garden
  • Easy to grip
    • Metal handles can sometimes be slippery, so look for something textured or plasticized to help maintain a good grip. Grippy rubber gloves are also a great idea to save energy and grip strength.
    • Try a rubberized plasti-dip or spray to adapt a metal handle for easier use. As a bonus, a bright plastic layer makes the tool easier to find in the garden.
  • Least amount of resistance to use
    • Make sure your tools are sharp and avoid letting them rust. Struggling with a dull pruner on a thick branch is a recipe for disaster.
    • Try a garden tool sharpener set or look for a blade sharpener in your area to make your pre-existing tools last longer.
  • Good use of leverage
    • The rules of physics definitely apply in the world of adaptive tools. A long lever arm decreases the amount of effort you need to exert with a task. This principle can apply to longer handles on loppers, or a shovel that has a longer handle. A stand-up weeder can also be a useful tool for pulling weeds without having to stoop over. I enjoy using my stand-up weeder when pulling dandelions.
older couple gardening
    • Along with long lever arms, certain companies are also making useful tools with gears built in to amplify your grip. I often recommend a power-gear clipper that amplifies your grip force by up to 3 times. You can also look for the “seal of approval” from the Arthritis Foundation on tools they recommend.

When in doubt, a simple internet search for any tool combined with the word “adaptive” or “ergonomic” can yield some surprising results. If you are getting frustrated with a specific task in the yard or in the home, chances are there is a gadget for that! It can be helpful to buy new tools in person so you can feel the weight of it and test the grip, but stores don’t always carry tools with this kind of thoughtful design. I often encounter new devices to make life easier when I look on the internet. Here are a few resources to get you started:

6 simple tips to follow in the garden

  1. Pace yourself. Break tasks up into smaller pieces. Set an alarm if you tend to get sucked into a task and end up with pain after working in one position for too long.
  2. Take frequent rest breaks. Don’t forget to stretch and drink water.
  3. Respect pain. Your body will likely tell you if you need a break. Or it might tell you the next day when you have accidentally done too much. When you’ve overdone it, using ice, heat, or stretching can help to manage inflammation.
  4. Use good body mechanics. This is a no-brainer, but it’s very hard to do consistently. Watch your body for discomfort or strain in each position, such as reaching for a weed in the far corner of the garden bed. Try to adjust your position by bringing the object closer to your body or kneeling closer to the object.
  5. Use a basket or rolling cart to carry supplies around the yard. Make sure to carry the heavy basket with both hands.
  6. Warm up your muscles before heading into the garden and maintain general muscle strength in preparation for strenuous tasks.

Physical therapy for hand pain and dysfunction

Certified hand therapists work with patients who have had specific upper extremity injuries and surgeries, as well as patients who are living with chronic conditions such as arthritis. There are 34 muscles and 29 bones in each hand and forearm. These structures all work together to pull weeds, plant flowers, and prune trees. It is important that we keep them in good health.

For those experiencing pain or dysfunction in their hands or arms while gardening or performing other tasks, certified hand therapy can offer significant benefits. Hand therapists can provide specialized treatments and exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and function, reducing pain and preventing further injury. They also offer education on proper techniques and tools to make daily activities easier and less strenuous. For instance, they might recommend certain ergonomic gardening tools or adaptive strategies to protect the joints and muscles.

Therapeutic Associates PT clinics with specially trained physical therapists and hand therapists have the expertise and tools to support patients in managing pain, improving function, and enhancing their quality of life.

specialized hand therapy services

As a hand therapist and occupational therapist, I often speak with my patients on how to adapt their daily activities to protect their bodies and save energy. Some clinics, including OMG Country Club Road, keep gardening equipment and kitchen tools on hand for patients to try while under the supervision of their therapist.

If you are having lasting pain in a specific joint or muscle, consider following up with a physical therapist for treatment or regarding bracing options. For patients with arthritis or tendinitis, specific braces or splints can be helpful. A wrist, thumb, or finger brace can help to support and protect painful structures when working on repetitive or strenuous tasks.

Certified hand therapy provides specialized care for individuals with hand or arm pain, offering treatments and adaptive strategies to enhance function and reduce discomfort. Clinics equipped with knowledgeable therapists and ergonomic tools are essential in helping patients maintain their quality of life and get back to doing what they love.

Therapeutic Associates specialized hand therapy services

Don't let pain keep you down!

At Therapeutic Associates, our certified hand therapists are dedicated to the art and science of restoring and maintaining hand function. If you’re having pain or dysfunction, we can help!

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