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Part II of II: Gardening with Disabilities

Summer (and Memorial Day, the kickoff of the gardening season) will be here soon and gardeners in northeast PA are anxious work in their gardens and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Last week, Health & Exercise Forum presented tips for gardeners for preventing hand and arm injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. This week’s column is dedicated to prevention of lower back and lower body injuries when working in the yard and for gardeners with disabilities.

A relaxing and enjoyable activity for many, gardening can turn dangerous without proper precaution as repetitive stress injuries, back pain, muscle pulls, can stem from raking, weeding, digging and pruning, can turn into serious problems if not treated appropriately.  Since prevention is the best approach, the US Dept of Agriculture promotes warm-up exercises and injury prevention tips to help all levels of gardeners avoid serious and long-term injuries while enjoying this popular outdoor activity.

People with various disabilities enjoy gardening at different levels. For example, those suffering from neurological diseases with muscle weakness, paralysis and poor balance as well as those with musculoskeletal problems such as neck and LBP or hip and knee arthritis can safely enjoy gardening at some level. This outdoor labor of love is very therapeutic.

Warm up and stretching is important. Don’t garden first thing in the morning before you have a chance to warm up. Get up, go for a short walk, have breakfast and maybe warm up with a hot shower before working in the garden. Some stretches include:

Photo 2
Photo 1

Corner Stretch: Stand facing a corner wall with arms and shoulders at 90 degrees. Lean into corner and stretch shoulders and back. (PHOTO 1)

Knees to Chest Back Stretch: While lying on your back, bring both knees up towards your chest. (PHOTO 2)

Note:  These exercises should never be painful when completing them.  You should only feel a gentle stretch. Hold the stretch10 seconds and repeat 5 times before you garden and every 2-3 hours while working. Should you experience pain, please consult your family physician or physical therapist.

The following guidelines to prevent injury and foster healthy gardening for those with and without disability:

  1. “Easy-Grip” tools are available for those unable to grip strongly. For example, hand shovels and weed cultivators that attach to the wrist/forearm with Velcro straps and tools with telescoping extensions are available. (
  2. Mobile Adjustable Stools – with arm rests and 2-3 steps that allow you to go from sitting upright to a position closer to the ground.
  3. Elevated and Raised Beds – allows gardening from a standing, sitting or wheelchair height for improved safety and enjoyment.
  4. Pipe Planter or Seeder – a PVC pipe 5-6 feet long allows planting and seeding without bending or kneeling. For example, a 6 or 8 inch pipe allows plants to slide down and be tampered into a hole and a 1-2 inch pip allows seeds to slide down to the ground for cover or planting.
  5. Kneeling Pads, Mats, Carts – are healthier for your knees and back.

Source: Karen Funkenbusch, MA; Willard Downs, PhD.: U. S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Engineering Extension

Model: Ashley Ottaviani, PTA

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. Access all of Dr. Mackarey's articles at our Health and Exercise Forum!