• Liz Clare

National allotment week

To tend a garden (or allotment) is to nurture the soul. It’s not just the fresh air and relaxing headspace, it’s the joy of cultivating life, to care for it as it grows. But the bliss of tending to your beds can be soiled by the onset of aches and pains. Just as advancing age can sometimes hinder your horticulture, joint pain and the symptoms of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis can make it harder to enjoy pottering about your plants.

Gardening is a fantastic form of exercise that benefits the whole body, and with the right approach to garden safety, the effects of musculoskeletal conditions don’t have to mean giving up your garden. Being inactive is not good for the joints. They require regular, gentle movement to avoid stiffening and further pain.

You may find you are more restricted with each new spring, so if you’ve been suffering, it's time to get creative and try a different approach. Use it as an opportunity to mix it up and re-plan your garden.

Exercise Exercise is vital in reducing the risk of injury, maintaining strength, balance and coordination. It helps to build strong bones and muscles and can also boost confidence which is also important when tackling osteoporosis. Warm up before you begin with some simple exercises and be sure to take regular breaks to avoid strain, rehydrate and admire your handiwork.

The Principles of Posture.

Posture is important, so avoid bending and arching where possible. Wear sensible, comfortable shoes and use padded knee supports when needed, although a seated position would be far more comfortable and manageable. Try raising the beds, reducing the need to bend forwards. Work at waist height and avoid overhead work wherever possible. The Lay of the Land.

Organising and arranging the layout of your garden could help considerably. By making things easier to reach you could save a lot of unnecessary wear and tear. Create narrow borders and beds so that they’re easier to reach. Be sure your beds are easy to access from wide paths with firm ground.

Pick New Plants Choose plants that are easier to care for. Get rid of anything that requires constant pruning, such as fast-growing hedges. Don’t forget: there are always deep-bed, no dig options for growing vegetables.

Types of Tools

There are some handy tools on the market that are designed to make life easier in the garden or even specialist add-ons that are designed to adapt the tools you already have. Use tools that are lightweight and with long handles. Rubber grips on your tool handles work wonders for finger joints. Border spades are lighter and easier to handle. Keep an eye out for tools awarded the Ease-of-Use Commendation from the Arthritis Foundation.

Slow & Steady What once took a weekend might now take a week, so plan ahead to avoid unnecessary effort. Work slower and spread your tasks out. Work in 20-minute increments and change your tasks regularly to avoid overexertion and strain.

Take your time and smell the roses. And remember: simple and safe doesn’t have to mean dull and dreary.

For further hints, tips and suggestions on gardening with osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, you can visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org and www.theros.org.uk

If the pain persists, consult a musculoskeletal specialist such as a Physiotherapist. They can offer professional support and advise on treatments and technologies that can help you to avoid pain medication and surgery.

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