The Arthritis Newsletter

Fall 2015

Tips for Easier Gardening With Arthritis Using the 3 P’s

By Trish Silvester-­Lee and Kelly English


Prioritizing, Planning and Pacing — People living with arthritis learn to use the “3 P’s” for joint protection, and you can apply these techniques to “weed out” obstacles to gardening. Gardening is a great activity for maintaining joint flexibility, bone density, range of motion and quality of life; however, doing too much for too long can cause joint inflammation and pain.


To get the most from your gardening experience, follow “the 3 P’s.”




Assess your needs
Where do you hurt? What size garden can you realistically manage? Adjust your expectations — just because you have a three acre backyard doesn’t mean you have to use it all.


Be selective 
What can you realistically manage? Bypass high maintenance flowers in favour of attractive shrubs, tasty herbs and easy-care perennials. Don’t be afraid to change things.


Where do you need help?  Write down all your gardening jobs, and then rate them in order of difficulty (Too Hard, Hard, Manageable, or Hard but I love it). This will help you decide which jobs to delegate.  If jobs such as lawn mowing, tree trimming, pruning, heavy lifting, planting trees, hauling debris, and watering are too difficult, you can trade tasks with a neighbour, ask family members to help, and/or hire a student.




Assess your limitations
What are your limitations and needs? Adapt your garden to those limitations and needs with low maintenance plants, minimal lawn care, easy watering systems, and gardening tools modified to reduce stress on joints.


Decrease your workload
Keeping in mind your arthritis pain, what can you do to decrease your workload? Limit bending and stooping by using raised beds and containers. Rig hanging baskets with a pulley so they can be lowered for easier care and watering. Plant climbing and creeping plants against fences or trellises. Train fruit trees to grow against a support or wall for easier harvesting and care.


What is your budget for redesign, new tools, or help? Tailor your tools to help you avoid bending and reaching, protect your hands, and minimize weight burden. You can find tools designed for people with arthritis in most gardening stores. However, you can make adjustments to your existing tools such as, tightly wrapping pipe insulation around the handles to make them thicker and easier to grasp, and attaching a handle halfway down the length of long­ handled tools to improve leverage.


Nurture your joints
What can you do to make your gardening chores easier on your joints? Use kneepads — some portable gardening benches have kneepads so you can move easily from sitting to kneeling. Wear padded gloves to ease pain and improve grip. Specific joints may need some external support or splint if they lack strength or are too sore to do a job.




Respect your pain
What is your pain telling you? Pain is an asset in that you can use it to guide your decisions on how you approach your gardening tasks. Pain often tells you your positioning isn’t correct, you are trying to lift something too heavy, or you have been doing a task for too long.


Warm up
How can you prepare your joints for gardening?  Doing warm up exercises before gardening benefits your joints by increasing blood flow, reducing stiffness, and decreasing risk of injury. Just walking around your yard once or twice before, during and after gardening will get your blood flowing. You can also stretch when you have been in one position too long (e.g. stretch your hands after you’ve used the shovel for an extended amount of time).


Select a timeframe
How long can you work before you get tired or sore? Take frequent rests, and plan on taking a break well before you are likely to get tired or sore. It is recommended to take a 10­ minute break each hour. Use a timer to remind you to take a break — it’s so easy to lose track of time in the garden. People with arthritis shouldn’t overdo it — pace yourself!


Change your routine
Which jobs require you to stand, sit, reach, kneel, etc.? Switch jobs/tasks frequently rather than stay in one position for a prolonged period. Or, simply take a break and enjoy a cold drink while admiring your work. Spread out your gardening chores throughout the week instead of attempting to get them all done on a weekend. With the right tools, modifications, and mind­set, gardening can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby. The aches and pains of arthritis don’t have to mean the end of your gardening days. If you enjoy digging in the dirt too much to give it up, simply follow the 3 P’s to overcome the frustrations and limitations imposed by arthritis, and recapture the joy of gardening!

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