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Gardening with arthritis

Whether you are a keen gardener already, or want to start, once you have more time there is no reason why arthritic joints need spoil your pleasure

Elderly hand holding pink rose
Careful planning is key to avoiding unnecessary effort in the garden

Gentle exercise strengthens the muscles around damaged joints and can help to keep them more mobile. So, before you resign yourself to watching someone else do all the work, it's worth trying some of the tips below that may help you to carry on and reap the health benefits.

Don't over do it

Overdoing the digging or pruning can quickly lead to inflammation, swelling and pain, which may mean laying down your tools until the flare-up subsides.

The secret is to exercise arthritic joints gently without subjecting them to too much stress. Repetitive action for any length of time is not a good idea.

Instead, go for 'little and often' and take regular rest periods. Listen to your body and you should get the balance right.

Change jobs frequently

This is a good way to exercise different sets of muscles. For example, follow a short spell of hoeing weeds in the vegetable plot with something lighter like pricking out seedlings while sitting at a bench in the greenhouse.

How to lift and carry

Too much pressure can quickly damage the small joints in the hands. When carrying things try to spread the load by using both hands and arms, rather than taking the load with your fingers only.

When lifting a tray of seedlings pick it up with both hands and rest it on your palms. Better still, carry it on your forearms and keep your elbows tucked in to your ribs to reduce the strain on shoulders and elbows.

Get your grip right

Gripping a hoe or rake tightly for any length of time can cause knuckles to swell and ache. Slipping a sponge rubber sleeve over the shaft of the tool will absorb any jarring and help you to hold it less tightly.

Plastic foam insulation sleeving used for domestic central heating pipes and available from builders' merchants and DIY shops is worth a try.

Minimise the effort

Careful planning is key to avoiding unnecessary effort. If problems with your hips, knees and ankles make walking difficult, take all you need in one go to avoid too many journeys up and down the garden.

Alternatively, if your shoulders, wrists and elbows are playing you up it is better to make several trips, carrying a small amount each time.

It sometimes pays to look at a job in a different way. For example instead of filling a large watering can from a tap outside the back garden and carrying it to the bottom of the garden why not install two or three open-topped tanks where you need them most?

You can then water plants with a small plastic can dipped into the nearest tank. Tanks can be filled up from time to time with a hosepipe.

There are several advantages to gardening while sitting down. The weight on load-bearing joints is reduced and as it is not so tiring you can work longer without discomfort.

If your balance is not so good, sitting also provides stability and if you normally walk with a stick it leaves both hands free for working.

Sitting does limit mobility and reach but you may be pleasantly surprised at how big an area you can look after from just one position.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.