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If you are like I am, I love to get my hands dirty and work the soil to create beautiful colors in the garden. Whether it is vegetables or flowers or a combination of the two, there is a sense of satisfaction when the fruits of your labor are visible.

Unfortunately, as we age, the effects of arthritis and a history of injuries or disease can challenge the experience as the season starts up again. This does not mean you cannot continue doing what makes you feel good.  You may need to change the approach but you can continue with some creativity and awareness of what your body is saying it needs and discovering how to meet those needs.


What a wonderful idea to use raised beds if you are starting a garden or have the space to create an expansion of the existing garden space. There are wonderful options available with the design of these since you can control the soil quality and have them higher to tend.  This year has brought some raised beds that are actually waist high which is a great option if space allows.  A local employee owned business, Gardener’s Supply has many options to meet these design needs. http://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/Search-Show?q=raised bed planters

I will admit that my personal history of getting it all done in one fell swoop has been my MO which does not work now for me.  Make some lemonade to sit and enjoy every 40-60 minutes allowing for a rest to the muscles that you use repetitively as you weed and work the soil. Walk around the space to check your work and take a break from sustaining that position. If you have the luxury of time, spread out what you want to accomplish in small amounts to avoid long term gardening activity.

Select tools with long handles to avoid bending over repetitively. The tools are becoming more ergonomic and can avoid the sustained bending over that wears on our muscles to create pain from the repetitive movement and effort. Try to identify if your reluctance to use something new is habit or the fact that the old tools are still good. The Yankee culture of using things until they fall apart certainly is okay unless you are reading this with interest due to pain encroaching on your gardening experience.

You may find that despite your best efforts that you ache or hurt after gardening. There are a few suggestions that I use regularly that make the experience for me that much more comfortable.

There are “dry” sea salt preparations that can draw the aching elements in the soft tissue out in the shower. Epsom salts, fine sea salt from the kitchen, or purchased dry preparations with essential oils, when enough water is added to hold the flakes/grains together, can effectively be used to scrub on the skin where you are experiencing pain or soreness. The salts draw the irritating elements out of the soft tissues and can reduce the soreness miraculously. It also makes your hands feel phenomenal!

Arnica is a homeopathic remedy available in a gel or cream that can help to address sore muscles and bruising.  Apply to the sore areas after showering. Look for this in health food stores.

Be aware of the areas that always seem to have the aching after gardening and practice gentle stretching before, during and after in these regions. Rigorous pressure in unnecessary and actually, a gentle, sustained stretch is more effective. Working under the radar of pain when stretching avoids the body’s protection against the expected pain during the stretch, which actually creates resistance to the stretch. Patience with stretching actually allows for releases in restricted soft tissues more effectively. Don’t be concerned if you don’t feel a stretch right away. Add pressure equivalent to reaching the first signs of the end of the line of pull when stretching the tissues and maintain this feeling with the same amount of pressure for 5 minutes or more. The time is important to allow the tissues to release without unnecessary protection. This is probably different than your current habits. Try it! It is effective.
Gardening can still be an enjoyable past time. Variations of your habits may need to be considered to stay active and the aftercare may be new but you can remain an active gardener if you are creative and listen to your body.


Edie Bernhardt, PT is one of the original owner/members of PT360. She is a master gardener who has chosen to adapt her gardening habits to allow continued enjoyment in the garden with both vegetables and flowers.