Caring for Aging Gardener Hands

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Caring for Aging Gardener Hands

The most important gardening tools I have are my hands.

Without five fingers, including an opposable thumb, I wouldn’t be able to hold a pair of pruning shears, pick up a tiny seed or perform any number of other gardening tasks with ease. Unfortunately, as I’ve grown older, my hands have begun to suffer the wear and tear that comes with age. Tendonitis, Raynaud’s symptoms, an occasional trigger finger precursor, and even a tinge of what I fear may be early arthritis have begun handicapping my precious hands. Along with pain and frustration, come reduced dexterity, strength and a whole lot of frustration. Fortunately, I’ve found ways victims of these sorts of maladies can mitigate their disabilities by utilizing specialized gardening tools and giving their fingers some TLC, ensuring we will have use of every beloved digit for as long as possible.

When I first developed tendonitis years ago, I almost stopped using hand pruners altogether. My hands are petite, and many shears open quite wide and with no design consideration for reducing the accumulated stresses. These big, unwieldy shears left my hands aching and barely functioning after just a few clips. But before I threw in the shears, I shopped for other options, looking for tools that hinged open minimally and smoothly. Fortunately, I found a set of Fiskars rolling action shears to save the day, and years later I still use them. The stress reducing design minimized the amount of clinching and pressure I needed to exert, allowing me to work better and longer without ending the day with incapacitating pain.

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In the ten years that I’ve had this first set of rolling action specialty shears, my aging hands have continued to challenge me, developing new and evermore frustrating, painful handicaps. Fortunately, newer innovations have come along, improving on this original. Smaller shears like my PowerGear® bypass pruners are my newer go-to cutting tools for quick herb snips and smaller-branched shrub pruning around the garden. For larger jobs, I’ve migrated to the PowerGear® Large Bypass hand shears to get bigger jobs done. Even this larger size works well in my relatively small hands. It’s no surprise to me that the Arthritis Foundation has awarded the Ease-of-Use Commendation both of these bypass shears.

Although these shears are great, the reality is, every branch cannot be pruned using small shears. When necessary, I will reach for the folding handsaw in my back pocket to work on larger items. But, the moment my hands send out “ouchie” signals like aches and numbness, I’ll stop my work and reach out for help from a friend to finish a job that would otherwise leave me debilitated.

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Using the right tools for the job isn’t the only way I care for my little, tired lady hands. I also conserve my energy and pay attention to indicators that I’m approaching fatigue. Completing a job by working one hour a day for five days rather than one day of five sequential, exhausting hours means I don’t finish a job with weak, painful hands. Plus, I probably produce a better end product through my patience. At the end of a workday when my hands are tired, sore or without proper circulation, soaking them in hot Epsom salt or mineral salt water can make all the difference. Stretching them carefully and indulging in professional arm and hand massage also helps keep my hands healthy and nimble even as they age. And, I check in with my doctor regularly to be sure that my care techniques are appropriate to fit the needs of my irreplaceable hands, which truly are the best and most important set of tools in any gardener’s arsenal!