Spring is finally on its way and a sunny day in the garden can inspire hours of mowing, digging, lifting, weeding and pruning. But take care not to become one of the many people who end up with a gardener’s injury!
Each year it is estimated that 350,000 people will attend hospital as a result of an injury sustained in the garden and of course most injuries will not need hospital attention but with some thought and planning you can help prevent many injuries including gardener's elbow.
So what is Gardener's elbow?
Pain and discomfort to the elbow is often caused by overuse and overstrain type injuries and when there is swelling, tenderness and pain to the tendons that attach to the bony part of your elbow it may be referred to as 'epicondylitis'. Tennis elbow, pain to the outside of your elbow, and golfers elbow, pain to the inside of your elbow, are commonly used terms to describe lateral and medial epicondylitis. However, most cases of tennis and golfers elbow are not actually caused by these two particular sports although sports injuries do account for approximately 8% of all elbow injuries.
In fact many elbow injuries occur following gardening and hence the term Gardener's elbow! Gardener's elbow refers to pain and tenderness to both the inside and outside of the elbow and like golfers and tennis elbow is often caused by an overuse or overstrain injury.
Could your secateurs be the cause?
Well the simple answer is most definitely yes and over enthusiastic pruning being the root of the cause. Pruning typically involves considerable mechanical force on the flexor and extensor muscles of your hand and forearm and even if you have a small garden this may involve a repetitive type action and potential strain.
How can I reduce the chances of causing this?
Well by selecting the right tool for the job will greatly reduce the chances of injury. Most of us will dig out our faithful old secateurs for pruning but they may not be fit for purpose and may lead to an injury. Fortunately there are a variety of secateurs available and by selecting the appropriate type you can reduce the risk of injury.
There are two secateur blade designs:
Anvil secateurs: The cutting blade is double edged and cuts by closing against the centre of a wider lower base or anvil. They are often a little bulkier than bypass secateurs and better for cutting thicker woody stems. The problem with this style can be attempting to cut wood that is too thick or hard which requires more force and potential strain on your muscles. The use of a pair of garden loppers should be used when cutting thicker wood that resists the pruner and thus preventing muscle and tendon strain.
Ratchet Anvil: Consider using a ratchet anvil if you have gardener’s elbow, carpal tunnel problems, weak or arthritic hands. The ratchet mechanism allows you to cut in stages and significantly reduces the mechanical stress on your hand and forearm. These are particularly useful for those of you that already have gardeners elbow, weak or arthritic hands and are also a good preventative option for when you have a lot of pruning to do.
Bypass secateurs: These consist of a single curved edged cutting blade that slices past a thick, unsharpened blade. They are preferred for close pruning of smaller less woodier plants and cutting of flowers.
Geared Secateurs: Consider the use of geared secateurs if you have gardener’s elbow, carpal tunnel problems, weak or arthritic hands as these reduce the muscular effort of repeated pruning.
Ergonomic secateurs: Some manufacturers also offer ergonomic secateurs. These are available in both anvil and bypass models. These are the best option for those gardeners with ongoing hand, wrist and elbow problems or those gardeners that simply have a lot of pruning to do. The benefit of the ergonomic design is in the lower handle which rotates as they close and this design helps prevent both mechanical and muscular strain.
- Ideally you should have a pair of anvil and bypass secateurs. This will allow you to use the right tool for the job and help towards injury prevention or reoccurrence.
- Try before you buy. This may sound simple but when choosing your new secateurs place them in your hand and operate them several times ensuring that they feel comfortable. Some manufacturers also offer a left or right handed option.
- Choose the right size secateurs to suit “your” hand. This will allow you to operate your secateurs correctly using the palm of your hand and base of your fingers. Secateurs that are too big will result in you gripping and squeezing from your fingertips which is a recipe for injury.
- Look for features such as a stepped locking catch. This allows you to adjust the secateurs for narrow and wide cutting which again helps prevent injury.
- Use efficient pruning technique. Avoid snipping with the ends of the blades. Using the deepest part of the blade to cut gives you greater leverage and reduces muscular effort and strain.
- An elbow support strap can be helpful at reducing the strain caused by prolonged pruning particularly if you have an existing or previous injury that needs protecting. If your injury is to the outside of your elbow select a tennis elbow strap and if your injury is to the inside of your elbow select a golfer’s elbow strap. Alternatively a good quality elbow support such as the SG90 elbow support can be worn for mild conditions.
- And finally don’t forget to warm up. A few gentle stretches prior to a day’s pruning is a great injury prevention option.
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