How to enjoy gardening with arthritis

29 August 2022

Limited mobility doesn’t have to stop you tending flowerbeds, or even maintaining an allotment

With over ten million people in the UK suffering from arthritis or similar conditions, stiff joints are something many of us have to live with. The discomfort felt in someone’s hands, knees or hips is often a natural deterrent against exercise, and can even preclude sedentary pastimes like gardening.

Yet gardening is one hobby arthritis doesn’t have to prevent you from enjoying. Whether your issues relate to your spine, extremities or anywhere else, these are our tips on keeping up with your weeding and pruning…

  1. Don’t do too much at once.

Even a relatively able-bodied person will suffer cramp and muscle strains if they spend hours gardening. This is compounded if you have joint pain, so do jobs for short periods, possibly in rotation. Take regular breaks, straightening your back and giving your hands some respite. Walking up and down is a great way to de-stress muscles, as is stopping to enjoy a cuppa.

  1. Use a multipurpose seat.

A typical garden chair might be difficult to get in and out of, so look for something straight-backed and not too low down. Some garden seats can be transformed from a chair to a kneeler in a single motion, bringing additional support and versatility. Ensure any chair or stool you’re buying is well-padded, to keep pressure off your lower spine and knees.

  1. Raise the height of key features.

An alternative to the last point is to elevate key garden features to a more accessible height. Hanging baskets and window boxes don’t require stooping or kneeling, while a raised bed can be tended to in a standing position. If you build a planter with a thick enough wall (bricks or railway sleepers, for instance), you could even perch on it while tending to its contents.

  1. Invest in longer tools.

Garden centres are full of extended-length tools, such as long-armed watering wands and extended secateurs. Certain hand tools may be combined with extendable handles. If you want to extricate weeds, use a hoe rather than a trowel to avoid crouching down. Prioritise tools with rubberised handles, which are easier to use if your grip is becoming weaker.

  1. Automate key tasks.

Some aspects of gardening are pleasurable, but others are more mundane, such as mowing the lawn. There’s a lot of pushing and pulling, unclipping grass baskets and so forth. A robotic lawnmower takes care of this, and means you’re not compelled to mow on the one dry day a week even if you’re feeling sore. Robotic mowers are affordable and surprisingly proficient.

  1. Lift like a pro.

Many of us are guilty of bad practice in terms of posture and movement – throwing sacks of compost over our shoulder, or bending down to pick something up. There are plenty of online guides about correct posture, bending from the knees and suchlike. A little practice and some new techniques will reduce backache and alleviate pressure on the fingers, wrists and knees.

  1. Buy a cart or trolley.

If you’re long past the sack-slinging stage in life, you may benefit from a gardening cart. Sporting knobbly tyres and comfort-grip handles, carts bring several benefits. They make moving heavy objects or multiple items far easier. They’re raised, so accessing their contents involves less bending over. And unlike a wheelbarrow, you can pull them, as well as push.

  1. Don’t feel obliged to do it all today.

Even if it’s forecast to rain tomorrow, the flowers/weeds/grass will be there once it dries up. Pushing yourself through the pain barrier simply to get a job finished will leave you regretting it later. Gardening should be a pleasure, but when you’re feeling pressured to plough on, it starts to become an obligation. Nothing is ever that urgent!