Repetitive Strain Injuries
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI, sometimes referred to as repetitive
motion disorders) are a group of conditions caused by certain types of
motions in unnatural positions, often with some force, and without a
rest break. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the hands,
wrists, elbows and shoulders. Some examples of RSIs include: carpal
tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis and trigger finger.
Over time, RSIs can lead to pain, numbness and tingling, swelling,
redness, extra sensitivity, coldness and loss of strength and
flexibility. The muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments may be
temporarily damaged. If the conditions leading to the symptoms continue,
the damage can become permanent.
Gardening and Ergonomics
According to the National Gardening Association, about 70 percent of
households in the U.S. participated in some type of lawn and garden
project in 2008. The most popular activities are lawn care, landscaping,
flower/vegetable gardening and planting/caring for houseplants.
Gardening is physically demanding. In fact, Paula Kramer, Ph.D., O.T.,
Occupational Therapist, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, PA
says it’s a great form of exercise because it requires strength,
stamina, flexibility and balance.
Gardeners who dig, weed, hoe, plant and perform other yard tasks
often spend a considerable amount of time in one position, increasing
the risk for some type of RSI. Constant bending can cause back pain and
kneeling can take a toll on the knees and legs.
Using the right kinds of tools can help reduce the risk for strain
and injury while gardening. Kramer has some things for gardeners to
consider when looking for ergonomically designed tools:
Construction. A tool constructed as
a single piece is less likely to bend or break when you are applying
force (like when digging with a trowel or pulling weeds).
Handles. Wide, padded handles enable you to
grip a tool using both hands, giving you balanced support. For safer
handling, look for a non-slip grip surface. Tools with sturdy
telescoping handles allow you to adjust the length of the tool to
accommodate your height while standing or sitting. A pistol-type grip is
easier to handle than the standard grip and keeps the hand, arm and
wrist in proper alignment.
Action. Look for tools that are self-opening
with a spring-action. They require less work to use and reduce wear and
tear on the muscles and joints. (Caution – make sure the tools are well
oiled to ensure they open and close easily.)
Shaft design. Look for tools with a bent shaft
design in the upper part of the handle. The bent shaft enables a
gardener to maintain the right posture while using the tool and reduces
the risk for back pain.
Kramer says many gardeners spend a considerable amount of time on
their knees or standing. Try doing some tasks while sitting (make sure
you use tools with the correct length to prevent too much bending).
Spray weeds with some type of anti-weed solution before pulling. This
will make the weed less resistant to pulling and easier to remove.
No matter what garden tools you choose, experts say you should test
them before making a purchase. The tool should be comfortable to hold,
fairly light-weight and balanced. Keep tools in shape. Check to make
sure the edges of shovels, trowels, hoes and other digging tools are
clean and sharp. Clean and dry all tools after use and sand wooden areas
when needed to prevent splinters. If you need to carry several garden
tools, consider purchasing a small cart to hold them. Most importantly,
take frequent breaks and keep yourself well hydrated.
AUDIENCE INQUIRYFor information on repetitive
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, http://www.ninds.nih.gov
Working Well Ergonomics Information Website, http://www.working-well.org
For information about gardening:
National Gardening Association, http://www.garden.org/home
BIBLIOGRAPHYGelfman, R., M.D., “Long-term Trends
in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,” Neurology, January 6, Vol. 209, Vol.
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“The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America,” South
Burlington: National Gardening Association, 2009.
Mitchell, Tamara, “The Ergonomics of Gardening,” Working Well,
n.d., accessed at http://www.working-well.org/articles/pdf/Gardening.pdf.
Park, S., et al., “A Preliminary Investigation on Exercise
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Research compiled and edited by Barbara J. Fister
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