Tips for Preventing Gardening Injuries This Summer

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Ahh, summer is upon us. Of the many summer activities available, one of the most popular is gardening. It’s a great way to keep active, save money on produce, beautify your outdoor spaces, and decompress—but it’s not without its risks. While most people think of gardening as a risk-free, passive endeavor, it can actually be quite physically demanding and hard on your body. Awkward positions and new or repetitive movements can lead to discomfort, pain, and even injuries. In this article, we’ll be sharing tips from Sarah Pettyjohn, Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Sundog Rehabilitation, that will help protect you from common gardening injuries this summer.


Tips for preventing gardening injuries

According to Dr. Pettyjohn, some of the most common gardening-related injuries are sprains and strains of the lower back, shoulders, and hands. To prevent these painful conditions, she recommends applying the following tips.


Warm up before gardening

While it might sound silly to warm up before gardening, doing so is very important. Gardening typically involves repetitive movements like bending or twisting and long spans of time spent in the same position. Doing a little warm-up that loosens up your spine in all directions and gets your blood pumping can go a long way. Some good exercises to try include taking a quick walk, swinging your arms, and performing back stretches like cat-cow, child’s pose, or the seated spinal twist.


Be on the same level as your garden

Most gardening-related injuries come from bending over or performing repetitive motions like pulling or digging while in a forward-bent position. To avoid these types of injuries, it’s crucial to be on the same level as your garden. “If you’re able to raise your garden bed up to about waist height, that would be ideal,” said Dr. Pettyjohn. “If not, you need to bring yourself down as much as possible to the level you’re working.”


Change up your direction often  

Activities such as shoveling, hoeing, and raking generally involve twisting or moving in the same direction over and over. According to Dr. Pettyjohn, it’s really important to switch directions throughout the day, so you’re not always shoveling or raking in the same way or direction.


Take action to prevent hand fatigue

Any gardener has surely experienced hand fatigue after digging or pulling with one hand for a long time. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to prevent the aching, tired feeling that can arise from overusing one hand.

First of all, try to switch hands as much as possible. Dr. Pettyjohn also stresses the importance of having gloves that fit properly. “Make sure that your gloves are fitted to your hands as tightly as possible. Bigger, baggier gloves put more strain on the muscles and tendons of your hands and wrists, so you want to shoot for a thinner garden glove that’s not as bulky.”

Taking breaks to stretch your hands while gardening is also essential. One stretch Dr. Pettyjohn suggests is pulling your fingers on one hand back towards your body with your other hand, and then switching sides. This can make a big difference in how quickly the muscles in your hands fatigue while gardening.

“It’s also helpful to build up your grip strength by squeezing a rubber ball, or even a tennis ball, in preparation for gardening season,” said Dr. Pettyjohn. “Doing some grip squeezing can help in preparing for that motion.”


Preemptively seek physical therapy

Due to uneven surfaces and awkward movements, falling while gardening is very common. If gardening is something you’d love to do this summer, but you don’t feel confident about your strength or balance, consider visiting a physical therapist ahead of time. A physical therapist like Dr. Pettyjohn can show you how to do exercises that will improve your strength and balance, enabling you to feel more stable and confident while gardening.


Do some post-gardening stretches, too

While warming up before gardening is imperative, so is taking time to do some stretches after a gardening session. This will help maintain good blood flow through your back and loosen up your muscles so you don’t feel as tight and stiff afterwards.

Pay special attention to stretching out your back, hamstrings, and wrists. “Try sitting and touching your toes or bending forward while sitting in a chair to let your back stretch out,” said Dr. Pettyjohn. “The other thing that people don’t usually think about is stretching out their wrists. A prayer stretch, where you put your palms together and stretch out the inside of your wrists, can really help with preventing carpal tunnel and other issues with your hands.”


When should you seek treatment if you’re experiencing post-gardening pain?

If you’re experiencing pain or soreness for more than two days, it might be time to have the area looked at by a doctor, especially if the pain is keeping you up at night. “Any time you’re having a hard time getting comfortable to sleep or being woken up because of pain, that’s a sign that it’s more than normal muscle soreness,” said Dr. Pettyjohn.

A physical therapist can evaluate your problem and determine the proper course of action, whether that’s visiting your primary doctor to get imaging or starting a tailored physical therapy plan to facilitate the healing process. A physical therapist can also guide you to make changes that will prevent further injuries of this nature in the future.


The bottom line

Gardening is undoubtedly therapeutic, but it’s not risk-free. By following the above tips, you’ll greatly decrease your chances of getting injured while gardening. If you’re currently suffering a gardening injury (or any other type of injury), don’t worry! The team at Sundog Rehabilitation can help you recover so that you can get back out in the sunshine as soon as possible.

For appointments call 605-787-2719 or visit them online at

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