Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) are quite often associated with injuries and medical conditions most associated with the work environment, e.g. people who use computer keyboards every day often suffer with RSI if they fail to take proper health and safety precautions. However, both of these conditions are not exclusive to the workplace and gardening enthusiasts can be equally at risk of suffering with symptoms of both of these conditions.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is also known by a number of other names such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. It can cause painful problems in areas like the arms, fingers, elbows, shoulders, wrists, back and neck. It is preventable but if bad habits aren’t modified, it can cause disablement.
Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) affects soft muscle tissue. It’s caused by repetitive stress to muscles, joints and tendons and the stress is often caused not only by repetitive actions but also by vibration, force and cold. Many years can elapse before a sufferer starts to experience any serious symptoms but, like RSI, once it’s taken hold, you are always at risk of it flaring it up again from time to time so, with both of these kinds of conditions, prevention is always better than cure and, by the nature of how it manifests itself, gardeners are always at risk so great care should be taken when working in the garden.
Good Practice in the Garden
If you regularly tend to your garden, you’re probably going to be performing tasks like raking, mowing and digging quite often so it’s important that you have a pretty good standard of physical fitness and take regular exercise in between gardening sessions to keep in good shape.
Leaning and reaching are two of the most common causes of CTD so you should use a step ladder or sturdy stool if you’re working with branches of trees or with bushes that are above head height. Try not to bend your spine when you’re working at ground level and use knee pads which will reduce the impact upon your back and knees.
Try and vary your gardening with different tasks each day. For many gardeners, they put themselves at risk of stress injuries because they have set their mind on a specific project that day and then spend all day doing just that one project. This repetitive work can be quite damaging so it’s always better to do a little work on a couple of jobs as opposed to doing the same job all day. For example, if you’re working with hand tools such as pruners, secateurs and the like which require a strong grip, alternate that with some mowing or potting plants to reduce the stress on the same muscles continuously. Also ensure that the tools you buy are the right sized tools to fit your hands and that you’re comfortable with any handle grips they might have.
If you’re digging and moving earth to, say, a skip or another area of the garden when you’ve gathered the load on your shovel or spade, pivot your whole body so it’s pointing in the direction of the skip or where the soil is intended to go, don’t simply swivel your spine and always let your legs bear the strain of lifting the load and not your back.
If you have a particularly ‘heavy duty’ job that’s going to involve working the whole weekend, split it into four half days over two weekends. This will lessen the impact the job will have on your body. Also, keep tools close to your centre of gravity so that you are not twisting or over-reaching when you use them.
Whilst gardening has become quite high-tech these days, with the rapid expansion of all kinds of power tools that are popular as they save time, try to keep their use to a minimum and, if possible, alternate between working with vibrating power tools and other hand tool work as the constant use of vibrating tools can greatly increase the risk of wrist injuries and vibration white finger which can be extremely painful.
If you follow these guidelines and take care of yourself, you’ll reduce the risk of suffering from either RSI or CTD.