By Ellen Lenox Smith.
Living with EDS does not mean giving up on all things we love, but when it comes to gardening, there are certainly a number of things that can be done to help keep you safer. I have been an organic gardener for many years and have always treasured the time outside and the thrill of watching a seed sprout and in time, become food for our family. As a person that use to turn the soil, harvest plants and preserve a number of vegetables for the winter, I would like to share steps which I have taken to allow me to continue this healthy and for me, therapeutic activity. As a result of the accommodations I have made, I have been able to continue gardening, despite aging and the progression of this condition which has placed more limitations on a range of my physical capacities through the years.
Turning the Soil
For years I was able to turn the soil. I carefully kept the shovel against my body and never threw the soil far off the shovel. I was careful not to twist the body during the process but to work directly in front of me. If you have developed issues with your arms, then it may be time to give up turning over the soil and either ask someone else of hire someone.
Planting is can be so much fun as you plan out your design. Remember to put seeds and/or plants in the ground on a day you feel decent. You want to bend your knees and only lean forward to reach down to do this. I usually use a hoe on ground my husband has already turned and prepared for me, to make a simple row. I then side step over the soil to pack it down so rain doesn’t wash the seeds away, after gently using the hoe to lightly cover the seeds with soil.
Be careful bending to weed. If you are able to make raised beds, it will help tremendously. However, we have gardened on a small family farm for years and never could have changed all this land to raised beds. So, I learned to remember to face forward and bend my knees to reach down in front of me to weed. I always try to avoid reaching off to the side or not bending.
Hoeing is an activity that leaves the garden neat and clean of weeds and makes me happy, providing a great sense of accomplishment. But sometimes, it isn’t in the cards to go out and do this on the particular day I had hoped to. I always try to attempt rigorous activity, such as hoeing, on a day just prior to my physical therapy appointments so I can address the inevitable adjustments that I will need when I attend manual physical therapy. I will attempt to take this activity on if I am feeling up to it. I hold the light weight hoe against my side and gently hoe away, taking frequent breaks standing up tall and relaxing. Be sure to listen to your body when it has had it and stop instead of being persistent and possibly hurting yourself. I find the long handled hoe safer to use then reaching down with a hand rake.
Watering the garden is a joy but there are things to avoid to keep those arms safe. If you are thinking of using a watering can, be careful, for the weight pulling your arms could be damaging. The watering option, which I have found to be best for me, is to have a garden hose set up that I can gently move around the designed pathways to water with. I never set it up first. My husband helps to get it in place and if it needs to be relocated, he comes back and moves it for me. However, if there is no water in the hose yet, then moving the hose may not be an issue at first for you. But once water runs through that hose, the weight of then moving it around can be heavy.
Carrying Items to the House
Be cautious carrying the items into the house, consider using a wheelbarrow or asking someone else to put the produce on the counter for you for pulling down on those tendons and ligaments that are not functioning normally can be damaging.
Harvesting is such a joy and a wonderful activity, filled with satisfaction.
Be careful not to take on more than you can do in one day. I select the plants to harvest and then come in to dry, can or freeze but I also try to stay within my limits relative to how much energy is left to take on the kitchen activities. Consider picking one crop a day and take time to enjoy contemplating how you are going to utilize each individual plant. If cutting creates issues for your arms, then set aside the time to have someone cut what you need and proceed with what you can do.
Remember to protect yourself from the sun using hats, lotion and protective clothing. Be careful to avoid wooded areas but if exposure is unavoidable, then be sure to check your body for ticks.
Always keep safety in the back of your head as you take on gardening. Enjoy the sun and being part of the amazing process of nature’s’ magic. But remember to be careful to achieve this without doing harm to your EDS body. Fresh air and being engaged in something you love is worth the time to figure out how to do as safely as possible.
May Life Be Kind to You,
Editor’s Note: Are there activities that you can still do despite your chronic pain? Share them w/ us (and why you do them!) by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.