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08/Oct/2020

Gardening and musculoskeletal conditions

“We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course, it’s our garden that is really nurturing us”. Jenny Uglow

With spring well and truly in the air, our gardens are coming alive 🌻🌼🌷. It’s the perfect time to get outside and dig in the dirt.

Gardening’s a wonderful way to get some fresh air and vitamin D 🌝. It can also be extremely relaxing, and a good workout. What’s not to love?

Sadly, for those of us who like to garden, there are times when our condition or our pain may affect our ability to garden as we’d like to. But there are many things you can do so that you can still get into your garden and enjoy yourself.

  • Pace yourself. I know, I know, we go on about pacing all the time 😉. But it’s so easy when you’re feeling good and you’re having a great time to get carried away. And then you pay for it the next day (or three). So don’t try to do too much in one go and remember to take regular breaks. This’s a good opportunity to rest – but also to drink some water while you sit back and admire your work, contemplate what to do next, and imagine future gardening projects 😊.
  • Warm up. Gardening is physical, so get your body ready for it, just as you would before doing any form of exercise. Do some stretches or go for a walk around your yard or the block so your muscles warm up and you feel looser. Then ease into the gardening.
  • Be aware of your posture and use good technique when lifting and carrying things. It’s easy – especially if you’ve been working all day and you’re a bit tired – for poor technique to slip in. Remember to carry things close to your body (or use a wheelbarrow or cart), be careful when kneeling or squatting that you don’t overbalance, and that you maintain the natural curve of your spine. Try not to stay in the same position or do lots of repetitive movements for long periods of time. Swap your activities so that you’re using a range of muscles and joints, rather than overworking one part of the body.
  • Contain it. Use pots and other containers for small, manageable gardens. This is perfect if you only have a small space, you live in a rental property or you want the flexibility to change plants and plant locations regularly. You can use regular garden pots or containers, or be creative and use other containers you have lying around – e.g. old wheelbarrows, teapots, colanders, tyres, boots. Check out Pinterest for some great ideas. Just make sure you have plenty of time – it’s a great place to lose track of time. You’ve been warned! 😂😂
  • Create raised garden beds and vertical gardens. This will take a bit more planning and work, but they allow you to access your garden with a lot less bending or kneeling. Perfect if you have a sore back, hips or knees. You can build your own –there are lots of videos and guides online to show you how to do this – or you can buy them in various shapes and sizes from gardening and hardware stores.
  • Use the right tools. There’s a huge range of gardening tools and equipment to help you manage in the garden including:
    • gardening gloves – protect your hands and wear decent gloves. It’s worth paying a bit more and getting a good quality pair (or two) that provide good grip and protect your skin.
    • tools that work for you – including ratchet style secateurs that allow you to cut branches with much less effort (they do all the hard work), and long handled tools that save you from having to bend down to weed or from stretching overhead to reach branches.
    • thicker handled garden tools – perfect for anyone with sore hands or difficulty gripping. You can also buy thick rubber or foam tubing from the hardware store, cut it to length and fit it over the handles of your existing gardening tools.
    • wheelbarrows and garden carts – to help you carry heavier items from one place to another, or to carry several smaller things in one go. Just be careful not to overload it and try to move more than you know you should. Listen to your body.
    • cushioned knee supports – knees pads, kneeling mats, or even gardening stools can help cushion and protect your knees and help you get up and down off the ground.
  • Get some help. Whether it’s family, friends, or a local handyman or gardener, get some help if you have some big jobs that need doing – e.g. creating raised garden beds, pruning trees, mowing lawns. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Save the things you really enjoy and let someone else tackle the less enjoyable jobs 🌼😊
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Gardening can be hot, strenuous work, so don’t let yourself become dehydrated. Keep a water bottle close by.
  • Have a warm shower after your exertions. It can help loosen up muscles that have become tight while gardening. After your shower, don’t immediately sit down if you can help it. If you’re feeling a bit stiff, go for a short walk. You’ll feel so much better for it in the long run.
  • Talk with an OT. An occupational therapist can help you find ways to modify your activities to reduce joint pain and fatigue and save energy. They can also give you tips and ideas about different aids and equipment available to make gardening easier and more enjoyable.

With the weather warming up, getting outdoors and playing in the garden is a wonderful way to forget the worries of the world, for a while at least (COVID-who?) 😉. So plant some bright flowers in pots or garden beds around the entrance to your house. Prune trees and shrubs and remove any dead winter growth. Add some mulch to the gardens beds. Plant some vegies for summer salads. Then grab a cold drink, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful. Jim Carrey

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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12/Sep/2019

The weather’s changing. You can smell the blossoms, the freesias and other spring flowers bursting into life. The days are getting longer. The sun’s shining and the temperature’s rising.

Hooray! I’m over winter. The time for hibernating is over. I just want to lose the winter woollies, say goodbye to soup and get out and about.

So I’ve made a list of all the things I want to do now that the weather is getting better. I’m going spring into spring! Here’s a few that may get you inspired:

  1. Get outdoors. We’re so lucky in Australia to have beautiful and accessible parks and gardens. Whether you’re into a gentle stroll, a brisk hike, a walk through history, or all of the above, there’s something there for you. A good place to start is the parks service website in your state or territory, your local council website, and the National Trust website.
  2. Try a new sport/exercise. If your exercise program has become boring, or you’re in a bit of an exercise rut, spring is the perfect time to blow off the cobwebs and try something new. Try trampolining, have a Frisbee tournament, learn to dance the samba/tango/tap/swing, borrow a bike and go for a ride, join a sporting team, go bird watching. The sky’s the limit. Just think about the types of things you enjoy doing, or sound fun to you, and incorporate them into your exercise program.
  3. Take part in a fun run/walk. This is the time of the year when fun runs and walks seem to happen every weekend. Find one that appeals to you – the location, the distance, the charity it supports – and sign yourself up. Even better sign up the family and friends as well!
  4. Volunteer your time and skills. Whether it’s something you do regularly or as a once off, volunteer work can be extremely rewarding for yourself and your community. Think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit the GoVolunteer website to search the database for volunteering opportunities.
  5. Grab your camera or phone and start snapping. It’s amazing the quality photos we can take on our phones. Post your pics on social media, and be inspired by others. Spring is the perfect time to get some gorgeous photos. And it’s amazing how differently you start seeing everyday things when you start imagining them through a camera lens. Things that once faded into the background become stunning architectural shapes, or vibrant vistas. Before you know it you’ll be experimenting with angles, perspective and light. If you need help, there’s plenty of tips and tricks online about taking photos with your phone. Or investigate photography courses in your local area. You’ll learn new skills and meet new people.
  6. Dig in the dirt. Many people find gardening a relaxing past-time, and it can distract us from our pain and our problems. So with our gardens coming alive, why not get out and get your hands dirty. Plant some bright flowers in pots or garden beds around the entrance to your house. Prune trees and shrubs and remove any dead winter growth. Add some mulch to the gardens beds. Then grab a cold drink, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours. Oh – and if you sometimes find your condition affects your ability to garden, check out this blog post.

More to explore

Photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash.


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25/Sep/2017

There’s nothing like this time of the year. It’s getting lighter and brighter. The weather is warming up and you can almost smell spring in the air! You just want to get out and about.

If your exercise routine has been hibernating over winter, spring is the perfect time to brush it off, get back into the swing of things, and get moving. It’s also a great time to add something new to your exercise regime.

Take a hike – walking is a great exercise that’s suitable for most people. You can adapt it to your specific needs and interests – e.g. a walk through your neighbourhood, Nordic walking (using special poles and technique that work your upper body), or walking in the bush and enjoying the smells and sights around you. If you find it difficult to find time to exercise, try breaking your walks up into smaller increments. If you can start with a 10 minute walk a few times during the day, it all adds up, and before you know it you’ve done 30 minutes of walking by the end of your day! Make sure you wear comfortable clothing and appropriate shoes for walking.

Makes some waves in the water – water exercise is a gentle, soothing form of exercise. The water supports your body and the resistance provided by moving through water boosts muscle strength and endurance. The types of water exercise you can choose include: hydrotherapy (offered by physios as one-on-one sessions for individuals or in small groups), gentle water exercise classes at your local fitness or recreation centres or swimming laps at your local pool.

Try tai chi – it’s a low-impact, slow-motion exercise, with gentle movements. When doing tai chi, your muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, and your joints are not fully extended or bent. You can learn tai chi from books and DVDs, however most people find it easier to learn from a qualified instructor. Books and DVDs are useful to help you practise between classes.

Hit the dance floor – dancing is a fun, social form of exercise. It’s also a great way to meet new people. There are so many different styles of dancing you can try, from Latin to hip hop to ballroom to belly dancing to just shaking it all about your lounge room when a great song comes on the radio! Make sure you’re wearing shoes that are appropriate for the style of dancing you’re doing, start slowly, learn good technique and have a wonderful time!

Get on your bike – and get your blood pumping. Riding a bike can give you a good cardio workout, which’ll help improve the health of your heart and lungs (cardiovascular system). Cycling can also help improve your stamina, manage your weight and reduce your risk of developing other health problems (e.g. diabetes).

Practise Pilates – the slow, controlled movements of Pilates can help you improve your flexibility and strength. Ensure you see a qualified instructor who can teach you how to perform each exercise correctly and safely.

The important thing when you’re looking to start exercising or reinvigorate an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing. You’re more likely to continue doing it, and reap all the health and social benefits that come from regular exercise. Exercise with your friends, join a team and just get out and move. And don’t forget to keep your doctor informed about what you’re doing.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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