Gardening Hurts


The Seattle P-I reminds us that gardening is not for the faint of heart.  A typical weekend in the garden yields unexplained bruises in unusual places, scratches and rashes from hostile plants, torn muscles, and–in my case–the odd bump on the head from that classic garden blunder, stepping on a rake and bringing the handle straight up to the forehead.  I’ve even been known to grab a handful of dead stems in one hand, pick up the Felcos in the other hand, and nearly slice off my finger along with those stems.  (Fortunately, I was wearing gloves, or I’d be typing one-handed right now.)  Oh, and don’t forget grabbing a weed and pulling it so hard that it flies out of the ground and straight into my eye.

The P-I recommends one of those garden kneelers, but my gardening is too haphazard for that level of equipment.  Long-handled tools and raised beds (like, raised high enough so you don’t have to kneel) are other options.

For me, the best protection against the hazards of the garden has always been the gym.  If I can lift weights, I can lift a bag of dirt. If I can do yoga, I can get on my knees and dig.

What about you?  Worst garden injury?  Best injury-prevention tool?



  1. Nothing major—a few torn fingernails, scratches, achy back. However, now that I’m using agaves in the garden, I’m a little concerned about getting stabbed by them. Maybe protective eyewear would be useful in case I lean over one to pluck a weed and forget about those spines!

  2. LOL at that article as at garden club last night we were discussing the dangers of gardening. One member is recovering from a broken arm…tripped over the rake. Dangerous, yes but better than lifting weights!

  3. I gashed my leg with a machete while chopping down the fava beans.
    My shin bone stopped the blade from going very deep. Luckily I had a first aid kit in the car (I was at the community garden at the time.) A few explatives and bandages later I was back at it, being more careful of where I swung the blade.

  4. “…that classic garden blunder, stepping on a rake and bringing the handle straight up to the forehead.”

    Just a few days ago, wearing my prized Lawrence of Arabia style gardening hat with the extra wide brim, I ran headfirst into the bird feeder hanging off the deck — couldn’t see it because of said hat brim. No real harm, just bruised pride and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds.

    Lifting bags of dirt, grubbing out clods of grass with the digging fork, and using the mattock on tree roots are the hardest things. Free weights and taiji class help, but I’m in my 40s, and I seem to stay sore longer, and even get actively cranky from overdoing.

    I’m not good about dragging tools around with me, so seats and pads are out. My taiji instructor taught us this squatting stance that is excellent for weeding (really takes the strain off the lower back) and can be used to flex the spine. Doesn’t bother the knees either, if you get the feet in the right position.

    I also found this nifty little $10 gadget at Lee Valley called the “Toolstep” that lets you push with the ball of your foot on a shovel or fork.

    Getting it on the tool handle in the correct orientation is good for your brain, too — working out puzzles keeps your gray matter lively!

  5. Just this weekend I cut off a bit of my left index finger with a scissors while hacking down the pole bean trellis. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been wearing gloves, but I have yet to find a pair that doesn’t annoy me within the first 10 minutes of use. I tend to put them on, take them off, put them on, then fling them somewhere in the vincinity of my other gardening tools.

    The worst, though, was suffering through a few years worth of plantar fasciatis from digging up hostas. NEVER use the arch of your foot on the shovel while digging giant clumps of plants. Only use the ball of your foot (or, if you can get away with it, your significant other).

  6. I remember the first time I did the step-on-the-rake bit, and I remember thinking, “man, it doesn’t just happen in cartoons!”

    I’m pretty clumsy, so thinking back I’d say all my garden injuries are on about the same level, fortunately nothing major (knock on wood).

    The best techniques I’ve learned for helping me stay out of my own way are: 1) keep track of my tools, and make sure that while I work, they always return to a specific spot/position; 2) don’t work with anything sharp when I’m having one of those “extra clumsy” days. 🙂

  7. I permanently injured my back swinging a potted plant across the living room floor. The vague non-thought going through my mind prior to this ridiculous manoeuvre was something to the effect that seeing as I wasn’t really lifting it, I didn’t have to worry about proper position.

    The pain I experienced far exceeded anything I have ever known. It took some heavy duty sedatives to bring the pain down to the level of a severe migraine, so that I could lie flat on my back on the Xray table without screaming.

    I continue to pay for that mistake every day of my life. That is definitely one of the things I would do differently if I had my life to live over.

  8. Nothing major, thankfully. But I do find that using the “right tool for the right job” is extremely helpful for preventing injury and exhaustion and crankiness.

  9. My GOD what a clumsy bunch – me included. Amy’s post got me all worried about her safety and now I think gardeners as a group are too into what they’re doing to fuss with safety concerns.
    That said, Pilates is a great help for strengthening the larger muscles and then learning to use them when lifting. But I want to know more about taiji (huh?) and that squatting move firefly uses. How about a nifty photo to illustrate? S

  10. This is good for me to read as I just pulled my lower back muscle on the right–again–weeding for only about half an hour. Weight training and stretching on alternate days, followed religiously, keeps me going, but this week I wasn’t very religious. Also, I can no longer work for long periods without switching tasks and using different muscles. It is a sure invitation to an injury if I try, but I am the type of person who wants to work on one thing until it’s done, so I still have more sprains and strains than necessary.

  11. “Elizibeth, this is the Big One Honey. I’m comin home to you”, he says while clutching his chest.

    I am of that certain age where you are not supposed to ignore things like chest pains so after two weeks I finally went to the doctor. He listened to things, did an EKG? and a chest x-ray. Then he asked me to turn my upper body to the right. Ouch!

    I had pulled some cartilage or muscle tissue off of my ribs most likely from trimming a Mock Orange, Murraya paniculata hedge.

    The visit did give me the chance to find out I have very healthy blood and pretty good lungs for a smoker. At this point the benefits of the physical exertion outweigh the pain, the dings and the dents.

  12. Susan, I’ll see what I can do on the photo, but I’ll say right now, be careful what you wish for … 😉

    Taiji (usually spelled t’ai chi — my instructor likes the other Anglo-Chinese spelling) is the root of all martial arts. These days it is practiced mostly for health, and emphasizes spinal alignment, proper placement of the feet for “rooting” in the earth, and open breathing. The 108 postures of the Yang Style Long Form are often called “moving meditation.”

    Been practicing now about 12 years, and I have noticed an increase in my ability to balance and be coordinated, which still isn’t the greatest (although my frisbee playing has improved tremendously!). It’s most evident in winter here because we usually have at least one ice storm, and I am terrified of falling (broke a bone in my elbow about 20 years ago on the ice), but I’ve stayed upright since beginning practice.

    Knock on wood.

  13. Q: “Best injury-prevention tool?”

    For me, a fidgiter and a “do it faster” kind of person, the best tool is to stop a beat before I do anything potentially harmful. Instead of quickly bending over & picking up that 30-lb bag of sand, I try to make myself stop, maybe just for a few seconds, and think about what I’m doing. Most of the damage I’ve done to myself over the yrs (broken feet, pulled muscles, bruises, cuts) has been the result of rushing into a task or chore like I was on a deadline. Or like I had only a few days to live and LOT to get done.

Comments are closed.