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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Body-smart gardening: Raise healthy crops without aches, pains

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Arnie Rehard removes grass from a fl ower bed at Toledo Botanical Garden. Mr. Rehard works three days at week at TBG. Arnie Rehard removes grass from a fl ower bed at Toledo Botanical Garden. Mr. Rehard works three days at week at TBG.
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For many gardeners, it can be a real battle to get control over a lawn or garden.

And far too often, it feels like it.

"You get sore a lot. I've managed to damage tendons that took a few weeks to heal," said Linda Fayerweather of Maumee. "I tend to do a lot of aerobic gardening."

With plenty of repetitive motion and endless opportunities to get your joints out of sorts, it's easy to consider aches and pains a natural part of America's No. 1 outdoor hobby. (A National Gardening Association survey found that three out of four households in the United States participated in one or more indoor and outdoor lawn and garden activity last year, spending nearly $37 billion.)

There are some things you can do, though, to encourage healthier and more pain-free gardening. More and more common are tools designed to take it easy on your body, in conjunction with time-tested tricks that veteran gardeners swear by.

A crop of tools calling themselves "ergonomic" - supposedly designed to be safe and comfortable for humans - have sprouted up in garden stores across the nation.

"We're starting to see more and more companies come around to it," said Harry Tinney, store manager of the Black Diamond, Inc., garden center on Tremainsville Road.

Sometimes the only difference from a traditional tool is a spongier handle with a better grip, but some come with more obvious design changes. Consider the rakes or snow shovels with arced handles to reduce the amount of bending a user must do. Or the hand tools with braces that latch onto the forearm, keeping the wrist in a neutral position and letting stronger muscles do the harder work.

There are telescoping gardening tools that can extend a gardener's reach and padded kneelers with handles to help gardeners assume an upright position after working down in the dirt.

Often these ergonomic tools are more expensive than traditional ones. The ergonomic rakes at Black Diamond sell for $26, compared to about $19 for a conventional one.

Arnie Rehard, 65, works three days a week at the Toledo Botanical Garden and said getting good tools can be worth the extra money. He's tried ergonomic trowels and other small tools in the past and noticed a difference.

"It keeps your wrist straight and gives you a little bit more power," he said.

Still, some questions remain as to whether some of the products are actually better for your body. Julie Jepsen Thomas, chairman of the department of occupational therapy at the Medical College of Ohio, has led studies involving ergonomic trowels and bulb planters.

"The tool that was labeled ergonomic did not offer any added benefit," she said. Her studies examined the issue in terms of the position of the user's wrist and the preference of the user compared to a traditional tool.

"I think there's a great need for more study," she said.

For gardeners like Ms. Fayerweather, 52, there are makeshift solutions that anyone can use. She takes it easy on her knees with spongy knee pads and plops herself down on a small three-legged stool so she doesn't have to bend over quite so much. Proper clothing should be considered too, she said.

"I garden in long sleeves and long trousers," she said, to keep her protected from the sun. "It also protects you from annoying things like poison ivy, annoying bugs."

Sally Roscetti, an occupational therapist at the Indiana Hand Center in Indianapolis, had a few more pointers for gardeners:

w●Rotate activities.

w●Keep your wrists in a neutral position whenever possible.

w●Avoid repetitive pinching and pulling with the finger and thumb.

w●Keep whatever you're working on as close to the body as possible.

Oh yeah, and stretch - stretch your fingertips, shoulders, back, legs, everything.

"Think of gardening as exercise," she said. "You'd never go running without stretching your legs really well."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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