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When Planting Becomes A Pain: Keep Your Body And Garden Happy This Summer

According to ONS' Dr. David Wei, gardening can actually cause significant hand and wrist problems if not properly practiced.
According to ONS' Dr. David Wei, gardening can actually cause significant hand and wrist problems if not properly practiced. Photo Credit: ONS

GREENWICH, Conn. -- Ask any avid gardener and they'll tell you that keeping flowers and plants looking great all summer requires continued effort. What most green thumbs may not realize, however, is that their favorite pastime can actually put them at risk for an overuse injury.

Dr. David Wei, a hand and upper extremity specialist at Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) who sees patients at ONS's Greenwich, Stamford and Harrison locations, explained that gardeners can actually experience many of same injuries associated with golf, tennis and other activities that involve repetitive hand, wrist and elbow motions.

“Injuries gardeners can suffer tend to develop over time and don’t usually cause pain at the outset,” said Wei. The pain of sprains, tendinitis and even arthritis is mild at first and often ignored. “These ailments can develop into serious conditions if left untreated,” he said.

The repetitive motion of opening and closing hand tools, for instance, can lead to a painful condition known as trigger finger or thumb. This is caused when the “eyelet” that holds the flexor tendons along the finger or thumb interferes with the smooth gliding of the tendons through it. Patients may feel a pain in the palm or the finger, and in severe cases, fingers can become stuck downward.

Another condition caused by hand tools is gamekeeper’s thumb, a ligament injury caused by progressive weakening of the ligament on the inside of the thumb. Patients will notice increased pain and difficulty in opening jars, using scissors and shears and holding large, heavy objects.

Gardening can also cause several wrist injuries stemming from overuse. Persistent pain from wrist tendinitis can develop from repeated motion of the wrist, while those affected with De Quervain’s tendinitis experience painful swelling along the wrist.

Tennis and golfer’s elbow are painful conditions that involve the tendons that attach the humerus bone at the elbow. With tennis elbow, repeated bending of the wrist while gripping something like a tennis racket or a rake weakens tendons attached to the outer side of the elbow. Similarly, weakened tendons attached to the inner, or medial, side of the elbow cause what is commonly called golfer’s elbow.

In most cases, these overuse-related conditions can be resolved with activity modification, ice and over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medication. If pain persists for more than five days though, speak with a specialist to explore bracing, physical therapy or other potential treatments.

For more information on overuse injuries, or to learn more about the services offered by ONS, click here.