A Physical Therapist’s Guide to Pain-Free Gardening

Gardening .jpg

From Crouching to lifting, gardening is the at home CrossFit.

Protect your knees while gardening this summer.

This summer make sure you are making the necessary precautions while in your garden. Whether you’re uprooting begonias or shoveling topsoil there are certain precautions you should take. Make sure to keep your body in tip-top shape and prevent injury, awareness is critical.

You’ll especially want to protect your knees and other joints from the bumps and jolts that are a part of any hike. Otherwise, you may find your summer adventures sidelined by injuries or pain in your knees, back, hips, or ankles. This is where an investment in the right hiking gear can make all the difference.


To ease knee symptoms and keep your joints healthy, start with a good kneeling mat or pair of knee pads. They will:

Reduce the load to the knee cap by creating a consistent soft surface.

Allow you to get areas where you would have difficulty crouching

Improve your back and knee mechanics throughout your time in your yard

For maximum benefit, be sure to move your matt as you weed, plant, or dig—you may have to adjust as you make progress, don’t reach. Many times if gardening is your goal, your physical therapist will engage in exercises to address core control while on your knees or in the quadruped position.


We have all heard the old adage lift with your legs. While this rolls off the tongue you may also want to add the glutes into this as well:

  • Direction: When lifting make sure you are squared up to the item you are about to lift. Whether this is a boulder, the lawnmower catcher, or a bag of soil keep it close to your body and your sternum should be directly facing the item.

  • Put It Down: Again, this is tied to unloading your load—make sure to step and point your toes to your desired landing or resting space. Injury is incurred when your hips and upper body go different directions when setting a heavier item down. It is good practice to do this with even lighter items to keep you in good practice.

  • Shoveling: Just as in lifting you should square up to your target and when throwing soil, leaves, of other items point your lead foot in a ¼ lunge movement toward the landing place.

  • Gloves: Many injuries seen by therapists could be avoided with a good pair of gardening gloves. Very often a client will have a bag, tree, or shrub begin to slip due to their grip and they attempt to awkwardly catch it in mid fall.

  • Hips Don’t Lie: Good hip strength and mobility can significantly take pressure and subsequent pain out of the knee joint and also the knee cap. A skilled therapist can not only assess your hips but also depending on your anatomy let you know the custom exercises that will keep your lawn green, vegetables growing, and your beds flowering.


Before you move a heavier garden item remember the push-pull-carry philsophy. This is the hierarchy of how you move something it not only reduces shear forces and wear to the knees, but also takes the load off of your lumbar spine. Sometimes the biggest help here is taking a breath and assessing what will be the safest and most efficient to accomplish your horticulture goal.

Is Injury Inevitable?

Despite all your precautions, you may end up getting hurt. A common injury is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), we also call it gardener’s knee. It’s not a specific injury—it’s a broad term for describing the pain that comes from one of several knee problems. You’ll usually notice the pain in front of your kneecap, but it can be felt around or behind it. You might also have swelling, hear popping, or have a grinding feeling in the knee. Many times there is an ache not only in the garden but also when you finally sit down for a well deserved beverage.

Treatment from a good physical therapist can ease pain and help you heal. Your PT can also provide strengthening exercises that prevent injury down the road—or in the garden!