Millions of Americans consider gardening a pleasant hobby, whether it’s tending to indoor plants or creating an outdoor oasis. What harm can come from pinching spent blooms or tending to vegetables?
Well, gardening may seem like a safe hobby – and for the most part, it is – but it can lead to injury or illness. For instance, emergency departments treat more than 400,000 injuries each year related just to the use of outdoor garden tools, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Those sharp tools, as well as exposure to pests and bees, or even over-exercising in the summer sun, can turn a day in the garden into a visit to an urgent care center or even an emergency room after a fall from a ladder or a mishap with a power tool.
Before you bend over to pull up a single clump of crabgrass in your flowerbed, check out these tips to assure your hobby remains a happy one.
Wear gloves: Garden gloves will help protect you from blisters, fertilizers, pesticides, bacteria, fungi, rose thorns and the blades of sharp tools.
Warm up: Just as an athlete does before a game or a run, you should warm up before digging in the garden. Do some pregardening stretches to protect your back, knees and shoulders.
Avoid repetitive motions: Prolonged and repetitive motions such as digging, raking, trimming, pruning and planting might irritate your muscles, tendons or nerves. To avoid this, switch up your tasks every 15 minutes and take regular breaks. “Wiggle your fingers and open and close your hands,” says Lori Russell, a certified hand therapist in Occupational Therapy at NorthBay Healthcare. You can also help reduce grip fatigue on your favorite tools by building up the handle with a bit of pipe insulation. “You can find the piping insulation at any hardware store. Just cut the pipe insulation to the length of your tool handle, and wrap it around. It helps protect your hands and joints when making repetitive clipping motions.”
Hydrate: While on those breaks, grab a bottle of water and a seat in the shade. Take this time to admire your hard work before starting another task and avoid dehydration.
Limit bending: Kneeling instead of bending puts less strain on your back. For extra comfort, consider wearing kneepads or investing in a garden stool.
Check your lifting: When lifting objects, especially heavy ones like ladders or patio furniture, engage your legs and not your back. When you’re carrying heavy objects, hold them close to your body to reduce strain.
Block the sun: Apply sunscreen that provides an SPF of at least 15, as well as ultraviolet A and B protection. Put on a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, head, ears and neck. Keep in mind that from midmorning to late afternoon is the most hazardous period for UV exposure.
Look for pests: Check your clothes and body for ticks, which can cause several diseases. You can prevent tick or flea bites by applying repellent. Are you allergic to bee stings? Your primary care provider can prescribe life-saving medicine found in an Epi-pen. Have one close by when you are gardening. Also, some plants can cause an allergic reaction, such as morning glory vines that can irritate the skin, or bottlebrush bushes that can cause severe sinus and chest congestion for some.
Sally Wyatt is the public relations coordinator for NorthBay Healthcare, a partner of Solano Public Health.