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Gardening: Ergonomics & Your Body

By DMG Physical & Occupational Therapy

From 2008 to 2013, the number of home gardens increased by 4 million (a 200% increase) according to the National Gardening Association. Are you one of those new gardeners and do you know how to properly garden without causing excessive stress on your body? Unlike sports – many people are never taught the proper technique or proper form when gardening. By learning a bit about the ergonomics involved in gardening you can save yourself pain and strain so you can work smarter, not harder!

Bending & Lifting

  • When lifting heavy objects, squat and bend with your knees. This engages your thigh/buttock muscles – and puts much less pressure on your back. When you bend over with your knees locked you are actually picking up 50% of your body weight in addition to the weight of the object you are lifting.
  • Keep the item you are lifting close to your body and center of gravity. This allows you to keep your arms close to your body and causes much less strain on your back.
  • Stand upright when using long-handled gardening tools like rakes, hoes and spades.
  • Keep your feet far apart rather than close together to distribute weight.
  • Move close to the object you are working on to avoid excessive bending when possible.


  • When carrying an object, use your larger arm muscles (biceps, triceps) rather than pincher-gripping with your hands. Also hold from underneath and keep the item close to your body.
  • Use two hands whenever possible. If not possible, tradeoff between sides so that you don’t pull your body out of alignment.
  • Take more trips with lighter loads.
  • Test the load before you carry it. If it is too heavy- get help.


  • Work below shoulder level whenever possible to avoid putting additional stress on your shoulders and back. If above the shoulders,  use a ladder to get to the proper height to be at or below shoulder level.
  • When you have to work above shoulder level, do so for no more than 5 minutes at a time. Holding your arms up for extended periods of time can strain your neck.
  • Take a break and stretch! Pay special attention to your head and neck or perform another activity for a few minutes to give your body a rest.

Ground Work

  • Don’t over reach. Try to stay as close to your work as possible.
  • Try to keep your elbows partially bent, especially when doing activities that require elbow strength.
  • Avoid twisting forearms back and forth repeatedly.
  • Keep your forearms in a neutral position with your thumbs up.
  • Avoid twisting your body – keep your work in front of you.
  • Keep your wrists in a neutral position (handshake). Avoid working with your wrists turned up, down and sideways. This is especially important when working with resistance.
  • Avoid keeping a tight grasp for a long period of time.
  • Squat with your heels on the ground.
  • Try to keep your back straight with your feet about a foot apart and your toes pointed slightly outward. If you can’t squat – try kneeling or even use a garden stool.

In general, try to schedule your tasks when they are easiest to do. Digging is easier right after it rains and the earth is moist. If the conditions aren’t right – do something else. Also try to work in the shade as much as you can.

If you follow these recommendations and are still experiencing aches or pain, talk to your physician about a referral to physical therapy or call DMG’s Physical & Occupational Therapy department at 630-967-2000.

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