The Best Ergonomic Garden Tools For Your Back

Gardening provides a great deal of mental and physical benefits, but can also cause or worsen back pain. These tools are designed to help.

Gardening is one of the better hobbies and leisure activities for your overall well-being. Being outside among greenery and nature, physically interacting with plants and the environment, and getting a tangible reward from the work have all been shown to have great effect on mental health, reducing cortisol levels (and therefore stress), boosting positivity, and creating overall healthier lifestyles. 

Woman using ergonomic garden tools to avoid back painThese ergonomic garden tools can help you get your green thumb on with less back pain.

One evidence-gathering study showed that thirty-five other studies tracked indicated health and well-being outcomes from gardening. And other reports like this one from Australia have indicated overwhelming improvements in the quality of life for older adults who garden, with benefits ranging from “positive aging self-perceptions” to social engagement and exercise.

But the one thing any spine specialist will tell you is that gardening can also put you at risk for back pain or conditions disc injuries. You can thank all the bending, squatting and lifting motions associated with gardening, as you lean down to weed, plant, or grab some produce. The result can often be new pain or worsening of pre-existing conditions, unless you take proper precautions, move carefully, and use the right tools.

What Causes Back Pain When Gardening?

Chiropractor Kevin Khalili, DC, founder of the Laser Rehab Institute, noted some of the most common causes and locations for gardening-related back pain

“From a standing position, when you bend forward at the waist right in front of you, there is up to a 100 percent loss of the lumbar lordosis [the inward curve of the back], which creates pathological tension on the associated intervertebral discs, spinal cord, cauda equina, and spinal nerves of the lumbar spine,” says Dr. Khalili. 

He also mentions that when you make the same movement but at an angle to either side of the body, the tension increases exponentially, as does the risk of a lower back injury. The same risks go for bending when in a seated or squatting position, though the loss of the lumbar lordosis, or curving of the spine, is less from this position. 

To automatically reduce your chance of creating or worsening back injuries and conditions when gardening, Dr. Khalili recommends these strategies as a starting point:

  • Do a suitable warm-up before gardening. This can include a 10-15 minute walk or bike ride, or a hot shower. 
  • Get very close in front of whatever object or area you’re tending to; don’t do extra unnecessary reaching.
  • If you're bending forward, only hinge from the hips, and engage your erector spinae muscles.
  • When you need to lift something, do a proper squatting motion directly in front of the item and lift carefully.
  • And, if you want to further prevent pain and injury while enjoying a hobby that provides so much benefit, here are some of the best supportive and adaptive tools to try. 

Raised Planters and Work Tables

One of the simplest solutions to that pain and injury-causing bending movement is something that’s risen to greater popularity in recent years and is now easy to find in a huge range of styles and sizes: raised planters and garden beds. 

These can come in sizes as small as a couple square feet to rather massive (though these will likely require you to purchase in person rather than online). And the heights will vary too. Some are raised a foot or two off the ground and others are several feet high, bringing your plants to comfortable arm-height and reducing unpleasant bending to a bare minimum. Even the shorter beds make it easier to pull up a seat next to your planter while you prune, weed, and tend to your garden. (As added benefits, they also keep your plants away from pests and pets.)

If you prefer to shop online, Eartheasy has a range of sizes for wood raised beds, and VegoGarden makes modular steel options for a totally different look. Alternatively, if you’re ready to bid farewell to traditional gardening but still want the benefits of freshly-grown produce, a Lettuce Grow Farmstand takes all the work and painful bending out of gardening, but still provides the fresh foods and greenery.

Another great way to reduce bending time while gardening is to get a nice waist-height work table to keep in your yard or garden area. Not only does this allow a nearby space to pot, prune, store supplies (saving you trips into the garage or shed), but doing more of these tasks in a comfortable standing position helps alleviate pain. This amazing potting bench offers plenty of storage and a perfect height for working. 

A table is good for gardening without back painInstead of getting down to your plants' level, bring them up to yours.

Rolling Planters, Hanging Planters, and Wheeled Dollies

One similar option to a raised garden bed is a moveable planter cart, which provides the same benefits of requiring no bending to plant, but also adds the extra perk of easy mobility, so you can adjust the location of your flower arrangement, or move your herb plants so they get more sun. The wheels allow it to simply be propped up and pushed carefully to a new location. 

You can also attach hanging planters to the side of a deck or a railing. These come in a range of styles and sizes, but all offer the same benefit of movability and accessibility, as you can plant wherever you’d like and then simply hang them in the appropriate spot (or have someone help if needed). 

For larger individual plant pots, it’s in your best interest to place each on a wheeled dolly. These allow you to easily move the pot to a new location if you decide to change your landscape decor or garden plans, without having to bend and lift massive, heavy pots. Instead, just glide the dolly across to the new location, pain-free. 

Seats and Stools

Dr. Khalili recommends that people with pain or pre-existing conditions sit on a seat or stool when gardening as much as possible, and avoid sitting right on the ground, which requires more leaning and more risk of injury and strain when getting up. Fortunately, online outlets provide a wealth of options in this respect as well, often with added perks. 

While you can get any simple bench or stool, there are also ones like this that serve multiple functions as both bench, kneeler, and on-the-go storage. Or, if you prefer a bit of added mobility and less standing to sitting repetition, this rolling garden scooter is great for reducing injury, and offers storage for tools too.

Long-Handled, Adjustable, and Ergonomic Tools

Long handled weed puller is an ergonomic garden toolA long-handled weed puller can minimize the amount of bending you have to do.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in rounding out your back pain-free garden kit, are some accessibility-focused tools. Each of these is ideal for one or more common garden tasks, but allows you to modify the motion that would normally cause back pain or injury (leaning, bending, twisting, squatting). Here’s what we recommend:

  • Long-handled, adjustable sprayer: This wand-style hose attachment is long enough to reach high planters without having to overextend yourself and low ground-based plants without bending over. The trigger is located comfortably at the end of the wand, and the sprayer head can even turn 180 degrees to hit any spot.
  • Steel weed-puller: Another long-handled tool, this innovative gardening implement is specifically designed to grab, grip, and rip out weeds all while you’re in a standing position, no painful bending required. 
  • Back Saver handle attachment: A small tool expressly designed for avoiding back problems, you simply grip this attachment onto any normal long-handled garden tool, whether a rake, shovel, or otherwise. The handle is then offset, allowing you to stand taller while doing the task and reducing back bending by 30 percent.
  • Short-handled utility shovel: While longer-handled tools often create less strain in most tasks, having a special short-handled shovel also offers benefits in other situations. When seated and working on a portion of the garden, using a short-handled shovel to till, dig, and plant allows you to be comfortable and stay seated on a stool or cart, not handling an unwieldy full-sized shovel from too close to the ground.
  • Foldable wheelbarrow: One of the smartest inventions out there, this multi-purpose garden cart is essentially a wheelbarrow that folds up to lay flat on the ground for loading and unloading of materials. This means you can be seated comfortably while filling it, then lift the handles from the ground once (rather than repeatedly lifting materials from ground to wheelbarrow), and wheel it where you need it.
Updated on: 05/04/21
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