Here is some special information for those of you who feel the call of the great outdoors when spring arrives! No matter how green your thumb, gardening is a physically demanding activity that can take its toll on you if you're not prepared. Think of it as a sport, you need to prepare and condition yourself.

First, some general tips … do not be a weekend warrior! Pace yourself and start back slowly. You would not start out running a 10 K if you have not run all winter. The same is true with gardening. Vary the activities; raking, weeding, planting, and do them for short periods of time. Take frequent rest breaks, and listen to your body.

Use good body mechanisms when shoveling and raking. These activities are hard on the back because of their rotational characteristics. Engage the core muscles, by tightening your stomach, and keeping a small bend in the knee. Make a plan and only do a small area at a time. If you have a lot of hand weeding, sit on a small stool. It makes it easier to get up and down. Weed after a rainstorm, or watering. The soil will be softer and the weeds will come out more easily.

Wear gloves to improve your grip and prevent blisters. Be sure to use the right tool for the job. Clipper blades should be sharp, making each squeeze efficient. If your garden tools are old, think about investing in some new ones that have padded handles and are more ergonomically designed.

If You Have Tennis or Golfer's Elbow:

When using hand tools, keep your grip light and remember to keep your elbows bent to lessen the strain to your elbow. When shoveling, use good body mechanics, distributing the weight into both hands. Keep your elbows close to your body and generate more power from your legs than arms. Avoid using hand clippers since they require a lot of resistive, repetitive hand motion, which can aggravate tennis elbow.

Stretch your forearm muscles before and after gardening. Use a cold pack on your elbow after gardening if you are feeling any soreness in your elbow.

If You Suffer From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

A very aggravating activity for carpal tunnel sufferers is cutting the lawn. The gripping required coupled with vibration can be irritating for this condition. The best option is to have someone else do it! If that's not possible, break the task up into small sections, and take breaks. Wear biking gloves with padded palms to decrease the vibration. Use pipe insulation on the lawnmower handle to enlarge the grip and decrease the vibration even more. Keep your grip light on the lawnmower to decrease the force through the carpal tunnel. If you have a wrist brace, wear it. It's a good reminder to keep your wrist straight.

If You Have Thumb Arthritis:

If you have a soft neoprene brace, wear it when you garden. The Comfort Cool CMC Restriction Splint helps take some of the stress from the base of the thumb by providing light support.

Weeding can be very painful since it requires a strong pinch force. Try to weed when the ground is soft, after a rain. Use a dandelion digger or shovel to loosen the weeds first, requiring less pinch strength to pull the weed out. Pace yourself, and only weed for short periods of time, then take a break.

As mentioned earlier, there are several gardening hand tools on the market that are ergonomically designed to reduce the force on the hand. The larger, padded handle options are better for your thumb when you have arthritis. If you're not in the market for new tools, you can pad your own with foam pipe insulation, available at hardware stores.

Happy Gardening!