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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Published: 8/8/2007

Gardeners, take it easy to avoid injury

She says she s a psycho gardener. Martie Berry ended up in her doctor s office because she worked too hard.

My husband bought me a whole truckload of mulch, she said. And she has been shoveling it around her perennial border. But all of that shoveling has caused a common problem: tennis elbow. So many gardeners suffer from this soreness, they should call it gardener s tendinitis.

I got this incredible burning sensation and was really weak, and I couldn t pick up the shovel anymore, she says.

The technical name for it is lateral epicondylitis, or elbow tendinitis, says St. Luke s Hospital occupational therapist Laura Durliat, who sees many people with overuse injuries.

You ve got to remember that your body isn t 25 anymore, says Mrs. Durliat. She sees these injuries especially when people do repetitive movements with heavy objects that require a lot of wrist work such as shoveling or even weeding.

You will feel elbow tendinitis in the area just below your funny bone on the outside of your arm. There s something else called golfer s elbow where you feel a burning sensation on the inside of your arm at the elbow.

You need to limit or change the motions that you re doing and avoid that repetitive motion overuse, Mrs. Durliat says.

She s gone through occupational therapy to strengthen her arms, shoulders, and muscles around the elbow. Her doctor has fitted her with a pressure brace around the forearm and another brace around her wrist to stop it from moving up or down. Moving your wrist up and down causes stress on those muscles suffering from tendinitis, says Mrs. Durliat.

Before you dive into that digging, take a few minutes to stretch out. Bend over and touch your toes, leaving your knees slightly bent to stretch the back of your legs. Stretch your back, arms, and quadriceps. Do your heaviest work in the early or late hours in the day to avoid heat exhaustion and always drink plenty of water while you work.

And when you are done, stretch again. How many times have you plopped down in a lawn chair to admire your gardening work, only to be firmly planted there? Take a few minutes to stretch again before you sit down for the evening.

Pace yourself; take your time finishing a project. Mrs. Berry wanted to get the mulch spread around her garden as soon as possible. I really like to fuss in the garden and this truckload of mulch was a great challenge, she says. But it also challenged her body. Mrs. Durliat advises assessing each project by the amount of physical activity required. Tendinitis is a gradual condition, so you feel soreness over a few days or weeks, depending on the activity. She says a minor case of tendinitis may only require some rest and therapy; a more severe case could require surgery.

If you have tendinitis symptoms, check in with your doctor. One of the first things you should do is give it a rest. I hired the neighbor boys to help me spread the rest of the mulch, says Mrs. Berry.



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