How To Move Without Pain

Gardening Pains? 8 Tips to Ward off Joint Pains and Muscle Aches

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 8 minutes to read

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Gardening in spring, yard cleanup after winter, or fall prepare just a couple of the reasons we are pulled outdoors to tend to our yards, flower, or vegetable gardens. Often joint aches, muscle strains, and the beginnings of chronic body pains also begin with this gardening. Spending more time outside in the yard, hedging, weeding, picking up sticks, mowing, and using our muscles and bodies in ways it is not accustomed to. This often leads to temporary muscle aches to overuse joint injuries, such as subacromial pain syndrome, patellar tendonitis, and hip bursitis.

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Many people love gardening, and it has many benefits.  Vitamin D from the sun increases calcium levels, boosting bone strength and immunity. Gardening can also be a great stress reliever, helping to ease people’s anxiety and depression. There are also plenty of physical benefits to gardening. All that digging, planting, and weeding burns calories and strengthens your heart. 

In addition to all these positives, gardening can be a very physical activity, so treating it like a work-out will help.  Research has shown that over two-thirds (69%) of adults aged over 45 say that gardening has caused them at least some physical pain in the past.  Knee pain from kneeling or repeated squatting, back pain from lifting, shoulder pain from pulling, or repeated reaching. Many muscle aches and joint pains can occur from gardening. For most of us, these aches and pains will not last for more than a couple of days, but for others, it can be a catalyst to limiting more aspects of life.  Causing a prolonged period of pain and reduced tolerance to activity can sometimes lead to fear avoidance behaviors and reduced overall activity.

Learning ways to prevent aches and pains after gardening can help reduce overall joint pains due to stress, ward off muscle strains, and teach you to understand when your body is telling you it’s time to rest or stop for the day.


Gardening is a physical activity, depending on what you’re doing it can be very strenuous. Lifting or carrying rocks, hedging a garden, and digging holes are all repetitive and physically demanding. Warm-up for your day’s activities.  Warming up your body with a 5-minute brisk walk, as well as, stretching your legs, arms, and back can help reduce your chances of muscle strains and joint strains.

Take your time and change position often

Maintaining one position for a period of time can cause stiffness and tightness in joints. Stay aware of how your body is feeling, change position, take a break, stretch or switch to a different gardening activity. 

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Ask for help

Yard work can be hours of heavy lifting and strenuous activities. Ask a neighbor or friend when needing to move heavy rocks/trees to reduce body stress and strains. Look for help to steady posts or other activities that would be easier and less time-consuming if a second person was available to assist. As we fatigue, we tend to cut corners with our own safety to get the tasks complete even if that means forsaking our own safety and the signals our body is telling us.

Use the right tools

Equipment with long handles can reduce bending, while knee pads and stools prevent pressure on joints.  Use wheelbarrows or garden carts to move heavy loads. Use lightweight tools to help reduce the effort for your muscles. 

Protect your joints

Consider an elevated garden or planters to reduce kneeling or bending over. If you are kneeling or leaning down to the ground, alternate between kneeling on one knee versus the other. Remember proper lifting mechanics, bend at the knees and lift with the legs, avoid bending at your waist, and using your back for leverage. Use a ladder to reduce neck strain when working overhead. 

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Take Breaks

If you haven’t gardened in a while, plan shorter activities in between longer ones to break up workloads. Plan big gardening jobs over the course of a couple of days to reduce the strain of trying to get it done in one day.  Make sure you listen to your body. If you start to feel pain at any point, stop and take a break. Set a timer and change position or activity every 20 to 30 minutes. If discomfort with an activity persists, let the pain relieve before repeating that same activity.  This will reduce the chance of further strain or progressive inflammation of a joint or muscle. 

Do it the right way

If you must do the heavy lifting on your own, then remember to bend at your hips and knees, keeping your back as straight as possible. Ensure that you grip with both hands and keep the item as close to your body as possible when you are straightening your knees to lift. 

Opt for perennials or hardy plants

Where possible, plant perennials as they require much less maintenance and don’t need to be planted every year. Consider plants that can withstand the elements (wind, heavy rain, all day sun) and require less maintenance and effort. 

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BONUS TIP: Keep moving after the gardening is done

After a day of being bent over your flower beds, lifting mulch, or whatever else you just completed, go for a short walk, stretch stiffened joints, loosen tight muscles, and relax the stresses that built up from the day’s activities. 

Gardening is often called a labor of love. It can be a lot of work, both in maintenance and physicality. The benefits of the activity, outdoors, sunlight, and reward of beautiful flowers or fresh crops often beat the aches the body endures. Your body is resilient, and with a little planning and some slight changes, you can love your garden and love your joints equally. 

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations​

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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