University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

News Article

Horticultural Health

Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont


Do you do repetitive gardening chores? Strenuous garden tasks? Are you in the sun a lot? Do your fingers tingle? If any of these apply to you, or you have other garden-related ailments, you should be concerned with your "horticultural health."

As medicine has advanced, so has knowledge of ailments that previously were ignored. And with this new knowledge have come methods to prevent, and to treat, such ailments.

Some of the more common "horticulture injuries" are back problems. To prevent these, either donít lift heavy objects or if you have no choice, lift with your legs, not your back. To treat a bad back, you may need to use liniments, bath lotions, or the services of a chiropractor.

Of course, the most common ailment is probably allergies-- either skin rashes from touching certain plants or sinus allergies from wind-borne pollen. An allergy specialist can conduct tests to determine your allergies and recommend treatments or medications. Many over-the-counter allergy medications are available for you to try. Always follow directions on the package label and be aware of possible side effects.

Although poison ivy is the most well known plant that causes skin irritations, many other plants may as well, depending on the individual. Check a good reference book or Extension leaflet on poisonous plants for this information.

Pesticides may also cause allergic reactions, especially if not used properly. Be sure to always use in accordance with label directions. Insect and spider bites are all too common, and as we all know, do cause allergic skin reactions. There are many sprays and lotions available, including "organic" or naturally derived ones, for flying insects.

Depending on the year and the season, stress from cold (frostbite) or heat (stroke) may be extreme health concerns for some people. Be sure to dress properly or avoid working outside in winter or long periods of working outdoors in heat. When in the sun, always use sunscreen lotion unless your skin is covered (as in winter). A sunscreen product with a rating of 30 is recommended to provide adequate protection. Sun hats and sunglasses help avoid future eye damage.

Do you mow grass? Trim weeds? Till Gardens? Operate a blower to clean sidewalks? Then noise may be a health concern as well for you. Use of earplugs or other ear protection headgear will help prevent hearing loss or injury.

A problem receiving much attention in recent years, though usually not involving gardening, is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). This is a type of "repetitive motion injury" to the nervous system that may cause numb hands and fingers, tingling or "pins and needles," cold fingers, wrist and finger pain, or reduced grasping strength.

Some activities that contribute to this (and so should be avoided) are repetitive motions (like weeding), improper stretching prior to heavy labor, prolonged exertion, pounding or pushing with the hands, improper body positions, or low climatic temperatures. Certain hereditary factors may also make certain individuals more prone to CTS.

Whether you have CTS or want to avoid getting it, you may want to look for "ergonometric" tools the next time you go shopping. These are lightweight tools with larger, softer handles and shafts with handles attached at 90-degree angles. These tools often also have moveable parts, so that the tool, and not your body, does the actual moving.

Small hand tools often have extension handles or arm cuffs to keep your wrist straight. Most tools are made so you can use either your right or left hand. Ergonometric power tools cause minimal noise and vibration.

Now that youíve read this, don't get discouraged about gardening and the potential health problems! Merely be aware of them, and how to avoid them, and you should be a healthy gardener. Gardening is a great form of exercise, something we all need.

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