Dig It: Top Tips for Pain-Free Gardening


The budding trees, blooming flowers and warm weather are sure signs it’s time to get back outside. But did you know gardening can cause unnecessary pain? Here, an expert weighs in on safe and comfortable ways to dig into the dirt.


Most would agree: Gardening is not supposed to be a contact sport. So why do so many people feel muscle pain and sometimes even suffer injuries as a result of this supposedly relaxing outdoor activity?

As it turns out, there are precautions and tips that can help us prepare for the rigors of moving dirt and pulling weeds. Dina Barry, PT, MPT, OCS, from Renown Physical Therapy & Rehab, weighs in and says to follow these tips to help minimize your risk of injuries while working in your yard.

How-to: Pain-Free Gardening Tips

1. Warm up before you garden

Gardening is like any other form of exercise. Digging, planting and weeding can cause stress and strain on your muscles and joints. Before you begin to garden, try taking a short 10-minute walk to get your blood flowing or doing active stretches with your arms, legs and spine to get your body ready to move.

2. Maintain good form while you garden

Bend your knees, tighten your stomach muscles and keep your back straight. Use your large leg muscles instead of your back to do the work. Change positions frequently to avoid getting stiff in your back, neck or knees. Use a garden stool or a garden pad to kneel so that you can support your back and not bend over for long periods of time. If bending down on both knees causes discomfort, try kneeling on one leg while you keep the other foot on the ground.

3. Use your tools correctly to help you get the job done

Use a wheelbarrow to help you move heavy planting material. Keep your back straight while you move the wheelbarrow.

When you are shoveling, bend your knees, stagger your stance, shift your weight to your front leg, and don’t reach too far in front of you. Don’t overload the shovel, or it will be too heavy. Avoid twisting to dump the shovel by moving your legs and trunk together. Avoid bending your wrists upwards when using gardening tools or pulling weeds. Keep your wrist straight and use your arm muscles to help you.

When using the lawnmower, keep your arms close to your body and walk with the mower. When using a hoe or rake, step into the movement instead of just bending forward and using your arms.

4. Plan breaks

Changes in position can minimize stiffness. Try frequent, gentle backward bending of your lower back with your hands on your hips. Turn your head side to side and roll your shoulders backwards. Don’t try to get the work done in one day. Spread the work over a couple of days. End your gardening session with a nice, short walk or the active stretches you used when you started.

With Barry’s tips in mind, gardening can once again return to its role as a relaxing outdoor escape, and not a trap for injury. This year, look forward to a bumper crop of veggies and flowers — not pains and strains!


  1. Instead of a pad or stool, I find hard-shell knee pads far more comfortable and effective. Granted, I end up crawling all over the garden on my hands and knees, but at least I don't have to move the pad or stool every time I want to move to another area of the garden. When I have hundreds of bulbs to plant in Fall, I'd far rather crawl than have to be up and down hundreds of times.