Ergonomic gardening comes to the rescue

When we age or are injured, gardening activities we once took for granted may become more physically challenging.

For example, I can't squeeze a hose gun handle anymore without experiencing pain later. Many manufacturers of garden tools now produce ergonomically designed hand tools. These tools can be a great help to a gardener with arthritis, rheumatism, carpal tunnel, or other problems with the hands.

Although a simple twist on-off nozzle that I don't have to squeeze solved my problem, others may find that they need ergonomic tools reduce their pain. Digging for hours with a traditional trowel can wreak havoc on wrists and hands. There are many new forms of trowels and garden forks. One set has curved handles that allow the wrist a more relaxed and comfortable position, providing great leverage without a tight grip. Others have cushioned handles with larger diameters that are contoured for an easier grip. Some even have "trigger" grips for extra leverage, requiring less force.

Sometimes all a gardener needs to do is add padding to tools or cushioning to hands. Rake and shovel handles can easily have padding added as long as it is firmly attached to the handle. An air-dry plastic coating is available at hardware stores. Spray on three coats, and when the last coat is nearly dry, grip the handle to conform it to your hand. Release and let the coating dry. This will reduce slipping, making a more comfortable tool, particularly if you have lost some hand or arm strength. Some companies offer precut, slip-on plastic tubing that you can heat and mold to your hands. To cushion your hands, try bikers' gloves or wheelchair cuffs. Cushioning your hands is extremely important when doing activities such as weed eating or lawn mowing, which cause vibration to the hands.

Dale Hildebrandt, Master Gardener volunteer for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, is teaching a class on ergonomic gardening, "Gardening is a Full-contact Sport," 6:30 Ð 8:30 p.m., March 14, at Bartley Ranch Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road, Reno. Bartley Ranch is located off Lakeside Drive, one-half mile south of McCarran and Lakeside. Hildebrandt will talk more about tools and give tips on improving flexibility while avoiding stress on knees, shoulders, arms and the back.

For more information on gardening with less pain, read "Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities," by Janeen Adil.

Contact me at 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office, for more gardening information. Or, check out many useful horticulture publications at "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing

n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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