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The right tool for every job ...

Ergonomic designs extend hobby for gardeners with physical limitations

October 13, 2010
By BETSY BETHEL Life Associate Editor

In the garden, fall is a time for bulb, tree and shrub planting, raking leaves and cutting grass for the last time before Old Man Winter comes to stay for awhile.

For home gardeners who experience arthritis, injuries or loss of strength, some of these tasks can seem insurmountable, but as the saying goes, "there is a right tool for every job."

According to the website, Gardening With Ease, "many of the new garden tools on the market today are lighter, stronger and easier to use. This is due in part, to new, space-age materials, but also because of their 'ergonomic' designs."

Ergonomically designed tools are those that provide optimum performance while reducing the stress placed on joints and muscles. They "align with the natural mechanics of our bodies" in order to "compensate for the constant repetitive motions" of gardening or other household, yard or office work, the website states.

In the gardening world, ergonomic handheld tools have wide, molded plastic handles with a bumpy texture for easy gripping rather than smooth, straight handles or even handles with grooved grips that are not one-size-fits-all.

Easier-to-use pruners have longer handles to reach farther without bending, stooping or stretching.

Fact Box

Gardening Made Easier

The website MasterGardenProducts.com lists the following tips for making gardening easier:

  • Keep pruners sharp to make cutting easier.
  • Wear a carpenter's apron with several pockets for carrying small tools.
  • Widen tool handles with foam tubing or grip tape to make them easier to grasp.
  • Avoid doing any activities that require gripping for long periods of time.
  • Use a wheelbarrow or cart to haul tools and supplies around the garden. (Several brands of carts include seats.)
  • Use ergonomic tools that have long or extendable handles to avoid bending or stooping.
  • When working close to the soil, use tools with short handles that are lighter and easier to manage. Small, lightweight children's sized tools may be easier to use.

Do's and Don'ts

Of Gardening

The International Chiropractors Association lists these tips for reducing the risk of injury when gardening.

1. Warm up with light movement or a brisk walk to loosen your muscles and increase your flexibility. The smooth coordination of your muscles and ligaments is an important part of safe exertion in gardening and other activities.

2. Know your strengths and limitations. Do not overexert; vary your activities, and take regular rest breaks.

3. Avoid bending over repeatedly while standing upright when performing ground-level work like weeding. Get down closer to the task by kneeling or sitting on the ground or a gardening bench, rather than bending and twisting from the waist.

4. Keep your back protected when you stand up from a sitting or crouched position. Rise up by straightening your legs at the knees, not by lifting your torso at the waist.

5. Lift dirt and plants by letting your arms, legs and thighs carry the load: bend and straighten at the knees instead of the back and hips. Lift the load close to the body's torso and center of gravity, and handle smaller, more manageable loads at a time.

6. Use long-handled tools to give you leverage and help you avoid having to stoop while raking, digging, pushing or mowing.

7. Switch hands frequently when doing prolonged raking, hoeing or digging actions. Repetitive motion on one side can bring on progressively serious joint imbalances and may produce postural misalignments and pain, including muscle spasms in the neck, shoulder and lower back.

8. Don't work too long in one position, especially one that is awkward or unusual. This can reduce circulation, restrict mobility, and promote strain injuries.

9. Carry objects close to your body. Keeping the load close to your center of gravity reduces the risk of straining your neck and back.

10. Don't overexpose yourself to long periods in the sun. Utilize protective measures for your head and skin, drink plenty of fluids, and take frequent breaks.

True Value Hardware on Washington Avenue in Wheeling carries a line of Green Thumb hand tools that are "super light" and easier to use, said manager Alex Coogan. In addition, the store carries lightweight power tools that are powered by lithium ion batteries. A cordless mower by Worx, for instance, weighs only 36 pounds and is turned on by flipping a switch.

"It requires no gas, no oil and you can lift it with one hand," Coogan said. Worx also makes a leaf blower, perfect for this time of year, also operated by lithium ion batteries that are longer-lasting than traditional batteries. Trimmer/edgers and hedge trimmers also are available.

Fiskars is another brand that makes ergonomic hand tools such as shears and clippers. Fiskars received the Arthritis Foundation Ease-of-Use Commendation, which means the foundation tested the products and deemed them easy to use for arthritis sufferers. Other home and garden products that received the commendation can be found at www.arthritisfoundation.org/ease-of-use-new.php?ct-id=4.

A tool called an oscillating hoe relieves pressure on the back and is especially useful for people who have lost strength and endurance, according to a Colorado University Extension Service article by master gardener Margaret Page Culver of Denver.

"They work through a push and pull movement from a standing, not crouching, position," she wrote.

She added: "The one-handed flower snips are designed for persons with bending difficulties or impaired mobility. The tool neatly holds stems after cutting so flowers don't drop to the ground." Both tools are made by Birdsall and Co.

Gardening also can be simplified by employing certain practices. For example, plant more perennials that are easier to maintain than annuals. Have raised beds installed or use containers that are placed on stands or porches that make them easy to reach without bending or stooping. And instead of raking leaves, mulch them with the lawn mower.

"If it's fine enough, that is great to leave on the grass," said Michelle Latos, a master gardener in Wheeling.

Or, use a bag and put the mulched leaves on flower beds, Latos said.

Another "tool" that helps gardeners continue their hobby despite physical limitations are knee pads and knee rests to make kneeling more comfortable. Bon Tool Co. makes a large size that has handles for stability, available at True Value.

The way gardeners move their bodies also is important.

"If you can't squat, find a way to sit. Add adjustable handles to long-handled tools so you don't have to bend as much," according to www.handhelpers.com, which sells ergonomic tools.

With these types of tools available, gardeners don't have to hang up their hoes too soon.

 
 

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