Don’t let arthritis or chronic pain stop you from gardening: Choosing the right tools and equipment

Laura Akgerman Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility

If you have chronic pain or physical limitations, having the right tools and equipment for gardening is vital, and may make the difference between completing a task, and being forced to stop because of pain and exhaustion. Before choosing tools, consider your strengths, and your limits. If you have trouble kneeling, bending, or stooping, long handled tools and a garden cart with a seat are essential. If you have hand pain, stiffness, or weakness, look for ergonomic tools which allow your hands and arms to stay in a neutral position, and require little grip strength to use.

There are many attachments and add-ons which can convert your current tools to adaptive tools. This list highlights some common tools, and links to examples of the tools. Although specific tools and vendors are included in this article, Ohio AgrAbility does not endorse, support or benefit from any of the vendors listed, this list is merely to show examples of the tools discussed.

Tools with padded grips make tools more comfortable to hold, and a thicker handle doesn’t require as tight a grip as a hard plastic or wood handle. Handles can be thick and solid, or have contoured surfaces for fingers. Choose tools that feel good in your hand, and fit your grip comfortably. You can also purchase a wrap for the handles of your current tools.

New grips can be attached to the handles of your current tools, making the tool ergonomic and comfortable to use. The RoboGrip is designed for you to use with one hand, it has a cuff which wraps around your forearm, and a grip handle to keep your hand and wrist in a neutral position, reducing strain on your hands, wrists and arms, and allowing you to hold the tool with less grip strength. A ProHandle can also be used, it attaches to the handle of the tool, and requires use of both hands. It can be attached anywhere on the handle, and is designed to save strain to your lower back.

Tools with ergonomic grips or handles allow you to keep your wrist and hand in a neutral position, ad are available with long handles or short handles. A Gripeez Glove can also hold your hand in a neutral position, and securely grip a tool or handle with minimal grip strength.

Cutting and pruning tools which require minimal strength save your hands and wrists, and are available in a variety of handle lengths and grips. Long handled pruners allow you to cut and trim without crouching or stooping, and minimize jarring impact when cutting. Short handled pruners with Easy Action spring-action design gently opens blades after each cut to reduce hand strain

A rolling work seat allows you to sit and work, eliminating the need to kneel, bend or stoop, and can be used to store and transport tools. Some garden carts have a tall handle for steering and moving the cart, eliminating the need to bend and push the cart. Other carts have handles on either side of the seat, which are useful if you need support to rise to a standing position.

A harness attachment can support the weight of power tools, taking strain off your shoulders and neck if using the tool at chest level or higher. Be careful not to strain your neck or shoulders when reaching overhead, or tilting your head back to see what you are cutting.

If you can, store your tools and equipment in or near the garden. A small garden shed, or locking storage box would eliminate the need to carry your tools and equipment between the house and the garden.

Water hoses can be heavy and cumbersome to drag around the garden. Lay a soaker hose in your garden at the beginning of the season, and keep your garden irrigated without the effort of hauling the hose out to the garden every day. If a soaker hose won’t work in your garden, use a lightweight collapsible hose, they are lightweight and easy to carry, and are compact and easy to store. For watering hanging plants a watering wand is an easy way to water high or hard to reach plants with minimal effort or strain on your back and shoulders.

Garden water faucet handles can be hard to turn, the Foxtail sliding handle faucet fits over a standard wheel faucet, and requires minimal grip strength to turn the water on or off.

Check back next month for an overview of Universal Designs solutions for storage, raised beds and container gardens, and modifying your work tasks.

For more information please contact Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility & OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, at Akgerman.4@osu.edu, or 614-292-0622.