Thumbs up for pain free gardening

Andrew Watson gives practical tips for pain free gardening and introduces the Senior Citizens of Ireland to DEEP OSCILLATION® which he says is very affective in reducing pain, inflammation and increasing healing time ....

Article in The Senior Times, Ireland, March 2010

Thumbs up for pain free gardening.....

As spring is upon us again, many are gearing up to tackle the garden after the long cold winter of neglect. Like any "extreme sport" preparation is key, so here are some tips to help you avoid some common injuries while working in the garden and allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labour pain free.

Many injuries occur in the garden as a result of overuse, bad posture and not taking regular breaks. A major culprit for causing wrist pain is weeding. The repetitive motion of gripping and pulling weeds, particularly between the thumb and forefinger, can lead to de Quervain's tenosynovitis causing pain at the base of the thumb. This is an inflammation of the synovium or sheath that wraps around the two main tendons at the base of the thumb causing pain on movements such as spreading the thumb, opening jars and polishing. In more severe cases pain can travel up the forearm on the radial or thumb side and audible clicking may be present when the thumb is moved. This can be avoided by not trying to pull large bunches of weeds in one go thus weakening your grip. Loosen the soil and roots with a small trowel first to make life easier for yourself and wear good fitting gardening gloves to improve your grip and hand function.

Kneeling for long periods while planting can lead to pre-patellar bursitis, a condition commonly referred to as "Housemaids Knee". A bursa is a fluid filled sack that acts like the bodies ball bearings, aiding smooth movement of structures and reducing friction. The pre-patellar bursa sits between the kneecap and the skin therefore it is particularly at risk of aggravation by compression due to kneeling. This can cause pain and swelling located on the front of the knee just below the kneecap. To avoid this, use a padded kneeler or cushion while planting or sit on a small low stool or box. When sitting, you can work the area between the feet thus reducing further stress on your low back due to stretching over flowerbeds. Taking regular breaks from specific tasks such as digging, using hedge trimmers, strimmers and leaf blowers. The constant tension and overuse can lead to lateral or medial epicondylitis otherwise known as "Tennis" and "Golfers" elbow. In the case of Tennis Elbow, pain will be felt on the lateral elbow when extending the wrist or activities such as carrying shopping bags, opening jars, gripping objects and pouring a kettle. In Golfer's Elbow, pain will be felt on the inside or medial aspect of the elbow when flexing the wrist, carrying pots, pulling weeds or even shaking hands. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Tennis and Golfers elbow mainly affects people between 35-65yrs of age and less than 5% of those diagnosed are related to playing golf or tennis.

These are all very common injuries seen in many GP and other healthcare practitioners clinics on a weekly basis and can be treated with the aid of anti-inflammatory medication, rest, activity modification, stretching, strengthening and therapeutic modalities. A new treatment on offer is Deep Oscillation Therapy that develops a low frequency intermittent electrostatic field between the therapists' hands or applicator and the patients' tissue giving the effect of a deep massage without the hard surface pressure therefore making it a pain free treatment. When used as part of a rehabilitation program, this mode of treatment has been very affective in reducing pain, inflammation and increasing healing time. For more information on Deep Oscillation Therapy visit

So when out in the garden working on your own entry for the Chelsea Flower Show, remember these keys points.

  • When lifting always keep the object as close to the body as possible, bend at the knees and hips keeping your back straight and lift with the legs.
  • Wear good fitting gardening gloves to improve you grip and hand function when weeding or using secateurs.
  • Use a padded kneeler or cushion when kneeling.
  • Take regular breaks from certain tasks and pace yourself, Rome wasn't built in a day!
  • Make sure gardening tools are in good order such as shears, hedge clippers etc as a blunt instrument will double your work.

By Andrew Watson BSc. (Hons) GSR, CSCS