Mercy Health's Orthopaedic Dream Team Offers Tips to Protect Your Joints While Gardening

(CINCINNATI; May 7, 2014) – Mother’s Day marks the traditional start of Cincinnati’s gardening season. Mercy Health’s orthopaedic dream team, which provides advanced, quality care with compassion in your neighborhood, offers the following tips to help gardeners protect their joints while beautifying their residences and our neighborhoods.

Any gardener can tell you that gardening is physical and that it's exercise. Physical exercise can lead to joint injuries and doing too much or using the wrong technique can lead to overuse injuries, the most common type of gardening injury.

Gardening injuries from overuse can affect many parts of the body. In the hands, elbows and shoulders, they can lead to:
• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which involves numbness of the hand, usually felt most at night. Small hand tools and vibrating motor equipment can contribute to swelling of the hand and pressure of the median nerve, which supplies sensation to the thumb, index and long finger.

• Tendonitis, symptoms of which consist of pain and weakness around the wrist and hand/fingers. Using small hand tools such as pruning shears or scissors can lead to tendonitis of the hand.

• Tendonitis also affects elbows. Pain and weakness in the elbow are the hallmarks of tendonitis, which in gardening is often the result of overdoing a certain activity, such as lifting, shoveling and spreading mulch. Elbow pain is also known as tennis elbow when it affects the outside part of the elbow or golfers elbow when it affects the inside part of the elbow.

• Rotator cuff injuries, especially if you do much of your gardening work overhead, either trimming tall plants and shrubs or watering flowering baskets.

Knee injuries include:

• Anterior knee pain, which can be caused by kneeling, bending and even digging in hard, clay soil that irritates the kneecap and surrounding structures in the front of the knee, causing anterior knee pain

• Meniscus tears can result from deep squatting while planting and weeding. There are two menisci in the knee, which are small discs of cartilage located between the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). A meniscus tear can cause knee pain, swelling and locking.

A common back injury includes:

• Soreness, especially in the lower back, from time spent bent over weeding and planting or carting plants and soil

The following common sense healthy gardening tips can help you avoid many of these common overuse injuries. To stay healthy and protect your joints, consider the following:

• Start with stretches – You’d likely do some stretching before heading on a run. Light stretching before gardening can help ward off back pain and stiffness in the joints. Do some bends to help your back and knees and warm up your hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders by rotating them slowly in either direction for a few minutes.

• Take Breaks and Mix it Up - Limit the time you spend doing one activity. Weed, mulch or shovel for half hour or so, then stand up, stretch or get a drink of water. Change your activity to something else, such as light pruning or raking. This will help prevent overuse injuries and back pain.

• Use Knee Pads - When weeding, use foam pads or knee pads. There are also small scooters or lightweight stools you can sit on while weeding to protect your knees and back.

• Use Proper Tools - Tools with extensions or long handles allow you to avoid kneeling or staying in a crouched position for extended periods of time or reaching higher that is comfortable for your shoulders. Small hand tools with springs to help you open and close them will decrease your chance of developing tendonitis. A wheelbarrow can help you avoid back injuries from moving heavy bags of soil.

• Consider Raised Beds and Planters - Planting in raised beds and planters can help spare your back and knees, especially if you sit on a gardening stool while you work

• Watch Bending and Kneeling if You've Had Joint Replacements - If you have a total hip replacement, you will want to avoid bending at the hip due to the possibility of hip dislocation. If you've had a knee replacement, avoid directly kneeling on your knee to avoid damaging your knee replacement. Kneel instead, on the top of your shin.

• Stay Hydrated and Use Sunscreen – While not related to joint health, water breaks give you a break from doing one activity for too long and you should always use sunscreen to protect yourself from harmful rays.

• Take Care After Gardening - If you have some soreness after gardening, ice the area for five to 20 minutes a couple of times each day until symptoms go away. If you experience continued pain, swelling, and weakness, you might need to see a doctor.

Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine expert Michelle Andrews, MD, an avid gardener, developed these recommendations. She practices from Mercy Health – Cincinnati SportsMedicine & Orthopaedic Center, Montgomery and Tri-County. To find out more about Dr. Andrews or to schedule an appointment with her, please call 513-347-9999.

Mercy Health Physicians, as well as physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers and locations of Mercy Health – Cincinnati SportsMedicine & Orthopaedic Center (CSMOC) and a partnership with Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine comprise The Dream Team. The Dream Team consists of 35 doctors practicing from 15 locations in neighborhoods throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Returning every patient to normal function as quickly, compassionately and safely as possible is the goal of Mercy Health’s Orthopaedics, Spine and Sports Medicine team. Together with physical therapists and athletic trainers, they provide comprehensive orthopaedic care for the foot and ankle, hand, wrist and elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, neck, back, joint replacement and sports-related concussion.

You can meet the team, learn more about their areas of specialty and find their office locations by visiting To find a Mercy Health physician in your neighborhood, or to learn about the services provided at Mercy Health, please visit or call 513-981-2222.