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Column: Don’t overdo it gardening

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Commentary by Heidi Wright

Spring has arrived in Central Indiana and you want to accomplish as much as possible in the shortest period of time in your garden and yard. First and foremost, please recognize that gardening and yard work are strenuous activities that can create problems. Here are a few tips for prevention of overuse conditions – including carpal tunnel and tendonitis – while returning to the outdoors.

  • Perform stretches to warm up the muscles and joints prior to gardening and yard work. While this may sound silly, basic stretching exercises are the best way to prevent muscle strains.
  • Get going now with cardiovascular reconditioning. Were you a couch potato all winter?  If the answer is yes, start walking outdoors for 10-15 minutes at a vigorous pace to prepare your heart and muscles for the rigors of gardening.
  • Purchase ergonomic garden tools. Ergonomic handles make a difference with minimizing load on the carpal tunnel region and small joints of the hand. Larger size handles will also minimize fatigue of the muscles that perform repetitive gripping tasks.
  • Pacing is critical. Start with 20-30 minutes of gardening the first day and gradually work up to two hours, increasing the time by 30-minute intervals. Increasing the minutes in increments gives the muscles, joints and your heart an opportunity to adjust to the physical demands of working outdoors. Always take mini-breaks every hour to rehydrate and to give fatigued muscles a rest.
  • Protect the small joints of the hands with gloves. Look for textured garden gloves in the garden section of Target, Walmart or a local garden shop. These are excellent for pulling weeds, protecting fingertips, joints and skin.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen. Even though sun exposure is a great source of vitamin D, too much exposure without sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.

Heidi Hermann Wright is an occupational therapist (OT) and certified hand therapist (CHT) in private practice on the north side of Indianapolis. Hand therapy is an “advanced” specialty of OT and PT.  www.helpinghandswork.com


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