Accessible Gardening: Garden Ergonomics PDF Version
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics looks at how
to do a task in the safest and
most efficient way. It looks at
designing tools, machinery, and
anything else involved in a task
to fit how a person naturally
moves their body. A person's
movement is looked at so using
tools and completing the task
have as little physical impact
on the body as possible. In
general, ergonomics looks at
matching the physical demands
of a task with the capabilities of
the person doing the task. This
match is important because
it can lower the risk of injury
for the person doing the task;
improves the person's work
efficiency; and increases the
person's satisfaction in doing the
More specifically for gardening,
ergonomics focuses on choosing
the right tool for a particular chore and choosing
the tool that best fits the gardener. You know you
have picked the right tool for the job when you do
not have to adapt the tool. The tool fits you well
(matches your height or fits your grip) when it feels
comfortable and natural when using.
In this packet, ergonomics refers to doing gardening
chores in the safest way possible while lessening the
physical impact to your back, knees, wrists, arms and hands.
Keeping good posture, i.e. keeping
your back straight, is a quick and easy
way to lessen stress on your tendons
and joints. Injuries can be prevented
by reducing this stress. Keeping good
posture also decreases muscle pain and
- Keeping your back straight is easier
if you use long-handled tools and
handle extenders, such as hoes,
rakes, and brooms. Keeping your
back straight helps the nerves in
your back from stretching and
stressing your spine.
- Long-handled tools should be
as tall as, or taller, than you. This
lets you stand straight. Grasp the
handle with both hands, thumbs
up, and bend with your knees to
move the tool sideways.
- Bend your knees, not your back.
It also helps to carry boxes and
bags from the bottom, not by
their tops or handles. Lift the
object by holding its bottom and
straighten your knees while in the
bent position. This keeps your back
straight when you stand up.
- When working close to the ground,
as when you are weeding, kneel
with one knee, not both. Kneeling
on both knees can cause you to
round your back. You can keep your
back straight by kneeling only on
- Whether you garden while sitting
or kneeling, bend forward from
your hips. This helps keep your
back straight and your back from
- Tools with built-up cushioned grips,
or grip handles that clamp onto a
standard tool, make handles larger
and easier to hold. These handles
lessen the impact that work has on
your hands and wrists. This in turn
makes you feel less strain, stress and
- Cushioned grips and grip handles
prevent wrists from bending
forward or being pushed toward
one side. This can cause loss of
grip strength and can hurt your
joints. Repetitive motion injuries,
like carpal tunnel syndrome, could
- You can adapt long handled tools
to work for you in a sitting position.
Place a triangular block of 4" x 4" x
1" lumber on the ground with the
tool propped over it. The wood
supports the weight of the tool so
your energy is used to move the
tool. Your energy is not wasted in
holding, directing, or lifting the
tool. Since the wood supports the
weight of the tool, there is less
stress on your wrists, upper arms,
Ergonomic tools are designed to lessen the
physical impacts of gardening on your body.
Ergonomic tools offer many benefits to
- Stay healthy. Your chances of injury
are reduced because ergonomic
tools are designed to fit your natural
body positions. The tools force you
to work in a good posture without
extreme leaning or twisting. Since
ergonomic tools do not require
you to use a lot of force, you reduce
the chance of back and shoulder
injuries. You are also less likely to
develop repetitive stress injuries,
like carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Do more in less time. Ergonomic
tools are designed to be efficient.
You can complete more in the same
amount of time as it takes to do
chores with non-ergonomic tools.
Since ergonomic tools force you to
keep good posture, you will not tire
out as quickly. For example, you can
dig more and trim higher.
- Increase your capabilities. The
basics of ergonomics is to keep
you using the tool in a natural
position. This increases efficiency
because your power in doing the
task is transferred through forward
motion. You do not lose power to
bending and twisting. For example,
grip strength is at its highest when
the wrist is straight. Testing has
shown that people lose up to 25%
of their grip strength when their
wrist is bent. It is also dangerous to
bend your wrists while gardening.
This irritates the tendons in your
wrists and hands.
What to look for in ergonomic tools
There are two main positions gardeners
are in when gardening. Gardeners are
either standing or kneeling.
- Kneeling. The handle's shape and
gripping surface are the two most
important parts of ergonomic tools
while kneeling. Look for a handle
that can support the tool and be
'user friendly' to your hands, wrists
and forearms. Make sure the handle
can support a two-handed grip as
some jobs require the use of both
hands. The handle's grip should
be soft but firm, and thick enough
to be comfortable. Also, look for
non-slip grips and weatherproof
- Buy hand tools that fit your
hand. There are many different
designs. Try them all out to
decide which fits you the best.
- Hand tools with looped handles,
swivel grips, and ratcheting
gears are easier to squeeze and
take less effort to use.
- Ergonomic hand tools are
designed with handles that keep
your wrist straight. This reduces
stress on your wrist. Some
ergonomically designed hand
tools also have forearm braces
that make your arm do the work.
This also reduces stress on your
wrist. This support helps prevent
muscle and joint fatigue for the
gardener. The gardener will be
able to garden for longer periods
of time and more comfortably.
- Standing. The tool's handle and foot
surfaces are the important parts of
ergonomic tools while standing.
Ultimately, you are looking for a
handle that lets your hands, arms,
and legs work together. This gives
maximum leverage with the least
amount of effort. You are also
looking for a handle grip that is soft
but firm, and thick enough to be
comfortable. Also, look for non-slip
grips and weatherproof materials.
For tools that you use your feet to do
the work, like a shovel, make sure the
tool has a 'comfort zone' for foot safety.
This zone should position your foot
directly over the tool head.
General rules of thumb when selecting ergonomic tools
- Find the right grip. Make a circle
with your index finger and thumb.
That is the size that the grip of your
tools should be. Larger grips are
easier to hold.
- Use tools with long handles. This
cuts down on bending, reducing
the risk of back injuries.
- Choose the tool with the lightest
weight possible but that is sturdy
enough to get the job done.
- Keep your back and joints straight.
This lessens the risk of repetitive
- Use tools with grips that are soft and non-slip.
- Wear ergonomic work gloves.
Gloves offer support and warmth
for sore or arthritic hands. You will
have a better grip when wearing
comfortable, properly sized gloves
with textured grips. Wearing gloves
also helps prevent blisters.
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Find more information on gardening
posture and picking the tool that is right for
you in these resources:
- For more on posture and gardening
ergonomics for each of your body's
parts, visit www.youcanbefit.com/ergogard.html.
- To learn about ergonomics and
making gardening more accessible for
people with special needs, visit http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu. Type
'ergonomics' to search the site.
- Making Gardening more Accessible, a
book by Charlie Nardozzi
If you would like to talk to someone about
accessible gardening, or would like a garden
assessment done, call Green Thumbs,
Healthy Joints at 800-841-8436.