Gardening and working with plants can be a stress-reducer, and special tools can take the strain off stressed muscles as well.
"Many companies are offering new lines of gardening tools that are designed ergonomically, which means they are designed to be used more efficiently and safely," says Robert Nuss, professor of ornamental horticulture in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "These tools are designed to make the job easier, especially for older gardeners and anyone with physical disabilities."
Nuss says most ergonomic garden tools are a little more expensive than standard tools, but the ease of use more than compensates for any added expense.
"Most people tend to buy tools that are too big for them," Nuss says. "I guess the idea is bigger is better, but in some cases it's like using an 18-wheeler to haul a pillow back from the store."
Nuss says ergonomic tools can be particularly useful for gardeners who do not garden religiously. "Gardening tends to require different muscles than everyday activities, and if you try to get everything done in one weekend, chances are that you will hurt yourself."
Nuss says some popular gardening tools offer ergonomic versions.
Shovels. Gardeners should buy the right shovel for their height. He also urges shoppers to mimic the motions of gardening right there in the store to test if the shovel fits. "Various companies also make shovels with angled handles to shift the strain of lifting from the back to the legs," he says.
Pruners. Pruners have a variety of ergonomic designs. Gardeners can buy models with padded handles and pivot-point grips that lessen muscular strain when the blades cut through a branch. "There also are extended pruners that use a cabling system to reduce the amount of pressure needed to snip a branch," he says.
Wheelbarrows and carts. Consumers should try out wheelbarrows and carts to find one that is right for their height. "Many of the ergonomic models have larger wheels or better handles than the average wheelbarrow," he says.
Pruning saws. "Pruning saws are not really ergonomically better, but the companies are using much better quality saw-tooth designs that cut faster and more efficiently," Nuss explains.
Hand tools. Some trowels, hand cultivators and other small tools come with padded handles. "The differences in these tools are subtle, but the padding really reduces strain on the hands and muscles of the arm," he says.
Nuss says ergonomic tools are available in many gardening catalogs, but he suggests trying out any tool before purchasing it. "Check with your local gardening center," Nuss says.
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