Despite its reputation as a relaxing, leisurely activity, gardening can be physical, a truth already known to avid and casual gardeners across the country. Squatting, kneeling, twisting, stretching, lifting, digging—all of these can tax the body. In response to the demands, ergonomic gardening tools have appeared on the market, touting designs that help minimize aches and pains.
Ergonomic gardening tools, just like ergonomic office equipment, are designed “around” the user, striking a balance between the utility of the tool and the need to minimize discomfort, fatigue, and injury in the user. This can lead to tools that with radically different design and appearance. However, experts caution that ergonomics is ultimately about the fit between tool and user: it’s imperative to shop smart and “test drive” tools.
While only your body and experience can tell you if a tool is truly ergonomic for you, here are some things to look for:
- Spring Action—scissor-type tools, such as pruners, clippers and shears, should include a spring which provides a “self-opening” feature in which effort closes the blades and releasing the efforts opens them. This can help prevent muscle and joint strain. Maintenance is also crucial: keep such items well-oiled and clean.
- Garden Caddies—“caddies” can be multi-functional and protect the knees and back from all sorts of strain. These devices often include knee-pads, a sitting platform, and an easy means to transport tools, plants, rocks, heavy items, etc. This last attribute both eases the stress of carrying and minimizes the number of trips when moving things around the garden.
- Single-Piece Construction—hand tools made from a single piece of metal (or, in some cases, plastic) maximize strength and stability and minimize the chances of breakage. Look for trowels, cultivators, and weeders with this design.
- Handles—the grip and handle of a tool can make all the difference. Extendable handles require less reaching and straining, and can accommodate various heights. Pistol-grip and telescoping handles are more efficient and encourage proper body alignment. Wider handles and those with pads and/or no-slip, textured grips make holding tight under damp conditions manageable.
- Shafts—like ergonomically-designed snow-shovels, hoes, rakes, and forks with a bend in the shaft cause the upper half of the handle to work more horizontally. This allows the user to work while keeping the posture upright (better for the body). Many of these tools also include a more comfortable “fist grip” as well.