Gardening Tips for Hurting Hands
Clearing, raking, lifting, digging, and pruning can often lead to pain and/or injury, particularly after a long winter of inactivity. Symptoms of cramping, locking, swelling, burning, tingling, and general pain in the hands and/or arms are common as the gardening season starts up.
Read the 2023 updated version of this Gardening Guide Here
Some of the more common conditions we see include pain on the inside or outside of the elbow (commonly referred to as golfer’s or tennis elbow respectively). This can make gripping, twisting the arm, or carrying objects quite problematic. The difficulty comes from identifying where that pain comes from. The pain can be related to an irritated tendon, muscle or nerve that runs past the forearm and elbow. Read our article on the Mystery of Tennis Elbow for more about this condition and how we treat it here.
Moving down the arm, wrist tendonitis and DeQuervain Syndrome (pain radiating from the outside thumb down the wrist and hand and sometimes the forearm) is also quite common. There are many tendons in the wrist and hand that are like ropey extensions of individual muscles. When they become irritated from repetitive gardening activities, they can become inflamed, causing tenderness, stiffness, and pain.
Finally, pain in the palm and fingers is also quite prevalent among gardeners particularly due to the usage of hand tools such as shears. These conditions include trigger finger which is characterized by pain radiating down the finger and is often accompanied by snapping or locking of the digit. This is also likely caused by an aggravated and inflamed tendon. You can read more about these hand and wrist conditions here.
How To Avoid Gardening Injuries
When we do more than our body is ready for (which is easy to do early in the season!), there is potential for increased soreness and pain. While some increase in soreness is expected, it’s important to try to avoid pushing to the point of causing a more acute, inflamed condition that could impact your desired activities. To more safely build capacity and avoid injury, try the following tips:
- Schedule regular breaks for yourself, particularly if you are performing repetitive motions.
- Monitor your time: the total number of hours in a day and the number of days in a row you garden.
- Regularly stretch to prevent pain and injury (see below for recommendations).
- Perform self-massage on sore forearms, palms and thumb.
- Wear proper gloves that have good grip and don’t impede your dexterity.
- Use ergonomic tools that reduce stress on muscles and joints.
Gardening Exercises to Relieve Pain
Most importantly, be aware of what your body is telling you and address minor aches and pains before they develop into something worse. When you notice discomfort, that’s your cue to take a break for stretching, hydration, and rest. Here are a couple basic stretches that can help. They are active exercises, designed to avoid generating additional strain. Move comfortably within your range of motion to the point of a minor stretch for best effects.
1. Wrist Rotations
2. Wrist Flexion & Extension
3. Active Wrist/Elbow Movement
Gardening Injury Treatment
If problems persist, get help early! We have multiple physical therapists on staff who are experienced in diagnosing and handling hand, wrist, and arm conditions and can often reverse painful conditions, especially when addressed early. The goal is to avoid injury in the first case though, so be proactive: Make realistic gardening goals, planning time in for rest and stretching, so you can stay outside and active all summer long!