Common Gardening Hand Injuries and How to Avoid Them

gardening hand

In 2020, many Americans found themselves looking for ways to relieve stress and improve their home environments. Given this, it’s no surprise that gardening grew as a hobby in the U.S. in 2020. According to a recent gardening survey, gardeners spent 42% more time in their gardens during that year.

There are countless benefits to gardening beyond being a great way to reduce stress. It can help boost your mood, expose you to vital vitamin D, improve your heart health, and so much more. Not to mention that it can produce beautiful flowers and delicious, nutritious food!

When you think of gardening, you likely think of it as a peaceful activity, and for good reason. However, there are some common gardening hand injuries that you’ll want to be aware of if you’re working in the garden.

What are some of the common hand injuries that gardeners deal with? Let’s take a look.

Trigger Thumb or Fingers

Trigger finger is a condition that can cause finger pain and tenderness. It occurs resulting from the tendons that flex your fingers becoming inflamed. This condition can limit the movement of your finger and make it difficult to both bend and straighten it.

This is a common hand injury for gardeners because of the way gardening hand tools are used. The repetitive motion of using shears, for example, can lead to this painful and uncomfortable condition.

Some of the early symptoms of trigger finger include:

  • Stiffness in your finger
  • Lingering soreness in the base of your finger or thumb
  • Tenderness around the base of the finger
  • A lump or a bump near the palm around the base of the finger
  • A snapping or clicking noise when you move your finger

Trigger finger can get worse if you don’t seek treatment. One of the advanced symptoms of this condition is having your finger or thumb being locked either in a straight or a bent position. You might also find that you cannot uncurl your finger without the help of your other hand.

It is common for the symptoms of trigger finger to be at their worst in the morning. As the day goes on, the finger typically starts to move more easily and relax.

Some people are at a higher risk of developing trigger finger than others. For instance, it is less common for men to experience trigger finger than it is for women. Some of the other risk factors for this condition include:

  • Performing repetitive activities that can cause you to strain your hand
  • Having rheumatoid arthritis
  • Having diabetes
  • Being between the ages of 40 and 60
  • Having hypothyroidism
  • Having tuberculosis

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are some jobs, hobbies, and tasks that put people at a greater risk of developing trigger thumb or trigger finger. These people might include farmers, musicians, and industrial workers. As an avid gardener, you will want to be aware of the early symptoms of trigger thumb so it can be treated.

How Are Trigger Thumb or Trigger Finger Treated?

There are a number of non-surgical treatments for mild cases of trigger thumb or trigger finger. A splint might be used to help keep the joint from moving and activities that are causing symptoms need to be limited. Anti-inflammatory medications might be prescribed is symptoms persist.

If the condition is recurring or non-surgical treatments aren’t working, it’s possible that surgery will be recommended. This is a surgery that uses local anesthesia and doesn’t require that you stay overnight in the hospital. The recovery time for the surgery is usually just a couple of weeks, though recovery time can vary depending on different factors.

Have you injured your finger but you’re not sure what type of injury it is? Check out this introductory guide for patients.

Gamekeeper’s Thumb

Another gardening hand injury that can result from repetitive actions is known as gamekeeper’s thumb. You might also hear this referred to as skier’s thumb or a sprained thumb. However, it’s worth noting that not all sprained thumbs involve injury to the ulnar collateral ligaments, as is implied by the term gamekeeper’s thumb.

The term “gamekeeper’s thumb” dates back to 1955 after a specific type of ulnar collateral ligaments (UCL) injury was found to be an occupational condition among Scottish gamekeepers.

It is sometimes referred to as skier’s thumb because it is easy for skier’s to injury their thumb’s UCL if their thumb is hit against a skiing pole at high speeds.

This injury occurs when the UCL experiences trauma or is torn. This can occur from excessive pressure to the thumb.

Causes of Gamekeeper’s Thumb For Gardeners

The most common ways for gardeners to get gamekeeper’s thumb is when grafting and pruning. This is because they are cutting through hard, thick stems regularly. It is normal for them to apply excessive pressure to their thumb and their grip.

Preventing Gamekeeper’s Thumb For Gardeners

One of the first steps you will want to take to prevent this type of injury is to use grafting tools that are sharp and durable. This will allow you to not put excessive force on your grip. You also might choose tools that have rubberized handles to help cushion your grip.

Some gardeners also choose to use thumb and wrist braces while they prune.

Symptoms of Gamekeeper’s Thumb

There are a number of symptoms associated with this condition. They include:

  • Swelling of your thumb
  • Pain at the base of the thumb located in the space between the index finger and thumb
  • Weakness of grasp between your index finger and thumb or inability to grasp
  • Black or blue discoloration of the thumb’s skin
  • Pain in the wrist
  • Pain in the thumb that gets worse with movement in any direction
  • Tenderness to the touch along the side of your thumb closest to your index finger

You will want to seek medical care if you experience any of these symptoms. Your doctor will give you instructions as to how to take care of your injury at home. There’s a chance that you will need to visit a hand surgeon’s clinic or an orthopedic surgeon.

Wrist Tendonitis

Wrist tendonitis is a condition that involves inflammation of the tendons in the wrist. Repeated motion of the wrist, such as wrist movement used in gardening, can result in persistent pain.

Causes of Wrist Tendonitis

When your wrist’s tendons are working as they should, they move without friction due to their ability to slide in a sheath that is lined with synovial fluid. If the tendon gets inflamed or injured, this sheath can thicken and restrict the fluidity of movement.

This hand injury is most commonly caused by simple, repetitive motion that, over time, puts stress on the tendon. For this reason, wrist tendonitis is usually referred to as a repetitive strain injury.

Wrist tendonitis is caused by everyday activities such as:

  • Gardening
  • Using a computer
  • Playing sports
  • Working physically
  • Writing

There are some other culprits for wrist tendonitis even though repetitive daily motions are the most common causes. Lifestyle habits and injuries can also bring on this condition, including:

  • Poorly positioned bones and joints
  • Sudden injury (hitting, bending, or falling on the wrist)
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Flexibility and/or age

It’s worth noting that this is not the same thing as carpal tunnel or arthritis of the wrist. While each condition can aggravate the others, they are distinct conditions. Nerve compression causes carpal tunnel, joint inflammation causes arthritis, and tendon inflammation causes tendonitis.

(Wondering how long it will take to recover from carpal tunnel surgery? Check out this article.)

Symptoms of Wrist Tendonitis

If you have wrist tendonitis, you will experience stiffness and pain in the wrist. You might notice these sensations more strongly in the morning. When you put pressure on the area, it will feel sore and tender.

There might also be some visible swelling at your wrist. When you move your wrist, there might also be a creaking noise.

The type of pain associated with wrist tendonitis is generally described as a dull, passive ache rather than an intense or sharp pain.

A number of gardening motions might be impacted by wrist tendonitis. These include pinching and gripping.

Another wrist injury that can impact gardeners is known as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which results from activities that rely on repetitive wrist or hand movement.

Hand Infections

While these other conditions result from the way that you are using your body to practice gardening, hand infections can occur due to pathogens in the environment. For example, rose gardener’s disease (also known as sporotrichosis) is an infection that is caused by a specific fungus. This fungus is called Sporothris and it is found on certain plant matter and in soil.

The way that people get sporotrichosis is by coming in contact with the spores of this fungus. The most common form of the infection is a cutaneous (skin) infection. This results from the fungus entering your skin through a small scrape or cut, typically after you touch plant matter that is contaminated.

Symptoms of Rose Gardener’s Disease

Sporotrichosis can lead to fungal growth in various parts of the body, but hand infection is most common. The first symptoms of a skin infection of this type appear in the form of painless, small bumps that show up between one and twelve weeks after exposure. These bumps usually appear on the hand, finger, or arm and can be pink, red, or purple.

A bump resulting from this fungus can grow larger over time and might look like an ulcer or a sore that is not healing quickly. You might find that other sores or bumps show up near the site of the original one later on.

Other Hand Infections That Can Result From Gardening

There are other pathogens in the soil and on plant matter that can lead to infection or disease. One infection that used to be more of a concern before widespread vaccination was tetanus. Caused by Clostridium tetani which is found in manure and soil, this disease can eventually lead to muscular paralysis and other debilitating symptoms.

There are other types of bacteria that are present in gardens if you use animal manure that can cause bacterial infections that lead to sepsis. This is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

How to Prevent Developing Rose Gardener’s Disease and Hand Infections

One of the best ways to lower your chances of getting hand infections while gardening is to wear protective clothing including long sleeves and gloves. This is particularly important if you are touching plant matter that could produce scrapes or minor cuts.

Are You Suffering From a Gardening Hand Injury?

A gardening hand injury can be frustrating, painful, and stressful. We use our hands to perform all matters of tasks throughout the day. When your ability to use your hand is compromised, it can seriously impact your quality of life.

As with many types of injuries and conditions, it’s best to catch hand injuries and infections early on. The last thing you want is for the issue to get worse or last any longer than it needs to. Seeking medical attention can help you ensure that you receive the treatment your hands require so you can get back to gardening as soon as possible.

If you are suffering from hand, wrist, or elbow problems, The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas are here to help. We specialize in the most advanced minimally invasive medical techniques. If it’s time for you to see an orthopedic hand specialist, contact us today.

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