Life Times Newsletter

Fall 2007
Vol. 9, No. 4

Gardening without pain: Tips for using and
modifying tools

Timothy W. Horton, MS
Former Horticulture Specialist 

   Keeping your garden looking its best often requires long hours ďin the trenchesĒ and can lead to aches and pains the following day. Gardeners can reduce their work and minimize these aches and pains by choosing the correct tool for the job at hand. This article examines different types of gardening tools and offers tips on how to best use them.
   Regardless of the garden tool you choose, itís important to hold that tool properly. A personís grip strength is
affected by the position of the wrist. You will achieve maximum grip strength when your wrist is in a relaxed or ďneutralĒ
position. This position is achieved when your hand is held at the same angle as your forearm. Any deviation from this position can result in losing up to 25 percent of your gripping strength.
    The ulnar deviation (bent) wrist posture is the worst. When your wrist is bent, the tendons in your hand that flex your fingers are easily irritated by the extra exertion made when your wrist is in this position. The result: sore muscles and joints in your hands. So keep your wrist as straight as possible when using hand tools in the garden. Wraps and wrist braces are available to help gardeners keep their wrists in the proper position.
Now letís take a look at some garden tools. Ergonomics is a buzz word that is getting a lot of attention in office furniture and kitchen utensils. Now we are seeing more ergonomic gardening tools available. An ergonomic garden tool has certain features designed to keep the userís body in neutral positions. This will cause less physical stress and allow the gardener to work longer. Not all ergonomic tools are equal. When choosing a garden tool, you should examine it for certain features.

  •     Grip. The handle of a tool should have a textured, non-slip surface to add resistance and minimize the gripping strength needed to hold the tool. It should also be pliable to allow for a more comfortable grip. A good ergonomic tool will have an enlarged grip that requires less squeezing to hold the tool. The harder you have to squeeze a tool, the quicker your hands will tire. The handle should also be curved to fit the natural contour of the hand. You may also notice a depression or notch on the top of the handle. This feature serves as a resting place for your thumb when holding the tool. When your thumb is in this position, your wrist will be in a more neutral position as you garden. This allows for greater gripping strength and lessens the amount of stress on hand joints.

  •     Handle length. The length of the handle is also important. Longer handled tools provide more leverage and can allow for a two handled grip, which distributes the work load to larger muscle groups in the body. Longer handled tools also allow you to work from a sitting or standing position so you donít have to bend all the way down to the ground. This can be important for a person who has stability issues or has trouble getting back up from the ground.

  •     Gloves.  A pair of gloves will minimize stresses to the hand. Not only do gloves provide protection for the skin, but you can purchase gloves that have non-slip surfaces to help you grip the tools and extra padding to protect your hand. 

  • Tips for modifying tools

    You can modify your existing tools to make them more ergonomically friendly. Be creative; many of these things may be just lying around your house.

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    University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller