Gardening With Care: The Top Tips to Avoid Common Gardening Hand Injuries

Our gardens need proper attention and maintenance for them to flourish and thrive. However, it’s important we attend to ourselves as well.

Otherwise, those hours spent out in the garden can do more harm than good. 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 135,000 visited the emergency room due to a gardening-related injury.

With the right tips and techniques, you can avoid making a similar emergency room visit. It also helps to recognize pain as it starts, as well as the signs associated with reoccurring hand injuries. 

Here are the five most common types of gardening hand injuries. With our top tips to avoiding these gardening injuries, you can give your garden—and your hands—the tender loving care they deserve.

Hands down, these tips can save you pain in spades!

5 Types of Common Gardening Hand Injuries

After spending a few hours in your favorite sunhat tending to your garden, you may notice an uncomfortable pressure in your wrist or aching pain shooting up your arm.

It helps to know the root of your pain before speaking with a physician. 

Here are the hand, wrist, elbow, and arm injuries we treat to help you determine the main source of your pain.

1. Lateral Epicondylitis

Also known as tennis elbow, lateral epicondylitis occurs when there is a strain in the tendons and muscles in the elbow. Despite its name, this type of injury is not exclusive to tennis players.

It also occurs in painters after holding a brush or roller, after running a hand saw, or after repeatedly using hand tools.

Yes, that includes gardening equipment, too. 

Wear and tear in our forearm muscles and tendons can lead to tissue degeneration. Here’s how to pinpoint this gardening injury:

  • You’re experiencing tenderness and/or pain around the elbow
  • Your forearm muscles may feel tight and/or sore
  • The pain may reach to the middle and ring fingers
  • bending your wrist or holding items with a stiff wrist is painful
  • Grasping items increases the pain

Speak with your doctor if you experience these symptoms as well as a difficulty straightening your elbow.

2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

According to the American College of Rheumatology, carpal tunnel syndrome affects four to 10 million Americans. It’s possibly one of the most common nerve disorders our society experiences today.

Affecting both the hand and wrist, carpal tunnel occurs when the median nerve is squeezed within the carpal tunnel. This is called nerve entrapment. 

The median nerve gives feeling to the index finger, part of the ring finger, middle finger, and the thumb.

This syndrome is often associated with repetitive hand movements such as assembly work, typing on the computer, and—you guessed it—gardening. 

Completing tasks with certain amounts of the following can also increase the risk of carpal tunnel:

  • Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Vibration
  • Repetition
  • Alignment
  • Posture
  • Force

Here’s how to recognize carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • A dull pain across these same areas, as if your hand has fallen asleep
  • You wake in the middle of the night experiencing this pain
  • Your little finger is unaffected by this pain

You may experience numbness when gripping items in addition to these symptoms. 

3. de Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

Pain in the forearm above the thumb and in the wrist can indicate de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Specifically, this condition affects the abductor pollicis longus and the extensor pollicis brevis tendons.

de Quervain’s causes inflammation, which constricts the movement of these tendons. 

Are you a do-it-yourselfer as well as a gardener? Check out these tips for protecting your hands during a home improvement project. DIY-ers are at risk for de Quervain’s too. 

Here’s how to recognize de Quervain’s tenosynovitis:

  • Soreness in the thumb (near the wrist)
  • Pain spreading down into the wrist or up into the forearm
  • Swelling near the wrist
  • Pain when grasping items with the hand and thumb

The main cause of this inflammation is repetitive movements in the hand and thumb. These movements can include grasping, squeezing, wringing, and pinching. 

4. Stenosing Tenosynovitis

Also referred to as trigger finger, stenosing tenosynovitis is characterized by a painful, difficult time straightening your fingers. Your fingers may even pop when you try to straighten them.

This condition is caused when the pulley at the base of the finger thickens. As it tightens around the tendon, it can also restrict the tendon’s movements.

These tendons are meant to help muscles bend to straighten the fingers and thumb. Instead, stenosing tenosynovitis causes the fingers to stiffen.

Here’s how to recognize stenosing tenosynovitis:

  • Stiffness in the fingers
  • A challenging time straightening the fingers
  • Swollen or inflamed fingers
  • Pain and soreness in the fingers

Trigger finger is caused by overuse of the fingers and thumb. This includes activities that involve repetitive grasping and gripping. 

5. Ulnar Neuropathy

Also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, ulnar neuropathy is a muscle atrophy condition. It’s caused by compression of the ulnar nerve found along the neck, elbow, and side of the hand. 

Pressure causes numbness and tingling within the hand. However, if not treated early, this can cause permanent muscle atrophy. 

Activities that require repetitive pressure can cause ulnar neuropathy. This includes cycling, typing on keyboards, using jackhammers, and shoveling. 

Here’s how to recognize ulnar neuropathy:

  • Difficult time gripping objects
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers
  • Atrophy of muscles between the fingers
  • Pain in the forearm
  • Soreness in the elbow

Discover the three hand conditions not many people are aware of for additional information on hand injuries.

Now that you know how to recognize the different types of hand injuries, let’s learn how to avoid them!

The Top Tips to Avoid These Gardening Injuries

According to Greenhouse Management, nearly half of the American population has gardened in the past 12 months. As a member of that group, it’s important to recognize the best habits to avoid developing hand injuries while you’re tending to your garden.

Here are our five top tips to avoid these garden injuries, so you can tend to your tulips, not an aching wrist. 

1. Get the Blood Flowing

Whether it’s before a run or before pulling weeds, our bodies benefit from a good thorough stretch. Gardening requires motor skills in the arms, legs, and fingers, so it helps to warm those areas up!

Get the blood pumping by taking a short walk around the garden before you start. This can also help you pinpoint the areas of your body—and your garden—that need extra attention. 

Implement a few warm-up exercises, too. Stretch your hands, wrists, arms, back, and legs. These areas will be active as you’re working in your garden.

By stretching, you can keep the body limber and ready to get to work.

2. Keep Equipped

When choosing your gardening tools and equipment, take the time to examine the grips.

Do the molded finger grips fit your grip? If they’re too small or too large, your grip could cause muscle pain and one of the previously mentioned hand injuries.

Choose equipment that feels comfortable in your hand. It also helps to wear gloves to avoid calluses and blisters. 

Gloves can keep small organisms in the soil from infecting any cuts or wounds on your hands. Wearing gloves can also protect you from any garden chemicals.

You should also choose equipment that works best for your height. A lengthy rake can cause you to overextend the arms, causing pressure to the shoulders, back, and wrists. 

With the right equipment, you can work safely and comfortably without thorn-like pains in your side!

Check out this safety guide for proper hand tool care and safe use.

3. Avoid Repetition

Remember, repetitive motions cause many of these conditions. Every 20 minutes, take a short break. Stretch your fingers, roll your wrists and neck, or stretch any other areas that may feel sore before continuing. 

It also helps to rotate tasks. This allows your body to work different areas in small intervals, instead of a stressing a single area over a long period of time. 

Don’t feel the need to overexert yourself. If you recognize one of the symptoms mentioned avoid, take a break.

It may seem more time effective to “just get the job done,” but that won’t benefit your body in the long run. If you have a long task ahead of you, schedule breaks ahead of time.

You can even take an egg timer outside with you. Schedule 15 minutes on the clock for each task with a short break or stretch in between. 

This will keep you from repeating the same motions that may cause muscle or tendon pains. It also helps us avoid gardening hand injuries by relieving pain to the wrist, fingers, back, and knees.

4. Perfect Your Posture

It may feel like a challenge to maintain proper posture when you’re digging through the soil. However, it’s important to make sure you’re not putting too much pressure on your back as well as your hands and wrists.

If you’re worried about bending your back too much while weeding or planting, try using a gardening stool.

Place one knee on the stool with the other on the ground. After 15 minutes, switch knees to relieve stress to the back and legs. Feel free to stretch it out whenever you feel tingling or numbness.

Another way to maintain proper posture is to avoid reaching. Instead of stretching your arm to grab a weed or to prune, get as close to the object as possible.

This will keep you from placing too much stress on your back and wrist. Try to keep your gardening equipment close at hand, too, so you don’t have to reach too far.

When lifting heavy objects, keep your back almost straight. Use your core and stomach muscles. Instead of completing a full squat, keep your legs half bent before standing straight up again. 

Keep the item you’re lifting close to your body. When you’re ready to set it down, move your body with your feet instead of twisting your hips.

This will help you avoid unnecessary strain throughout your body. The proper posture can help you avoid injuries that would otherwise result in an emergency room visit.

5. Know Your Limits

We may want to spend the entire day out in the garden, but our bodies will start to protest. 

Don’t push yourself too hard. If your body is starting to ache, call it a day and come back tomorrow. This will give your body time to relax and heal.

It also keeps your body from the pressure and stress that could cause a hand injury.

Taking it easy doesn’t just apply to how long you spend gardening. Be careful lifting and carrying heavy objects. This could apply unnecessary pressure and strain to your wrists.

Remember to bend your knees and lift with your legs, not your back. If you recognize an object is too heavy for you, ask for help. 

After all, it’s better to ask for assistance than to get admitted to the hospital because you didn’t.

If you’re using the timer to take scheduled breaks, step into the shade and grab a bottle of water. Keeping hydrated is just as important to your body as avoiding strain.

During your break, take a look at what you’ve accomplished so far. Enjoy the beauty of your garden instead of working overtime to get the job done.

As a result, you can reap the therapeutic benefits of your work. That’s one way to reap what you sow!

Flourish with These Top Tips to Avoid Gardening Hand Injuries

With these five tips to avoid developing gardening hand injuries, you can spend more time tending to your garden—and less time tending to hand injuries.

So grab your best sunhat, a trowel, your favorite gardening gloves, and smell the roses! As you put these tips into practice, you can protect your hands without leaving your garden neglected. 

That way, you’ll be one of the thousands of gardeners in America—but not one of the 135,000 admitted for a hand injury!

Schedule an appointment with us today to discuss your current hand injury and our various treatment options. 

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The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas offers diagnosis and treatment for hand, wrist, and elbow problems in Houston, using the most advanced and minimally invasive medical techniques. Our orthopedic hand specialists and hand and finger surgeons are waiting to provide you with excellent care at one of our hand care centers in River Oaks, Clear Lake, North Houston, Katy/Sugarland, or Baytown