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A thorn in your side? How to Avoid the Most Common Garden Injuries | Gardens

MThe first memory of an accident in the garden came when, aged four or five, our parents hired an electric scythe to mow the lawn we rented from the church next door. As my father paused for a second, the old engine coughed, released the brake, and the scythe rushed toward the disobedient child, where he was told no. I remember my dad yelling at me to move but my little legs were frozen. As it hit, I fainted until he lifted me out of danger. I am eternally grateful to him for saving all the parts of me that I don’t have now.

But not all gardening injuries are such high drama. Through my 30 years of gardening I’ve had my fair share of cuts and falls. I’m not particularly clumsy – as the 300,000 people hospitalized with gardening injuries alone can attest to, bountiful gardens carry plenty of risk. But we must persevere because gardening There is Good for us physically and mentally. With that in mind, here are the most common gardening injuries — and how to avoid them.

Injuries from electrical equipment

It’s lawnmowers and hedge trimmers that get injured the most, sending 9,600 people to the hospital a year. Even streamers. I hit a stone once and the blades ricochet dangerously close to my toes. Luckily I always wear metal capped shoes.

Man with secateurs
Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

Many injuries come from people ignoring instructions or not operating machinery, which causes worn bits to break or cause you to strain too much, which can lead to unexpected slips.

Always clean, sharpen and check them between each use and oil parts that need lubrication. I always wear eye protection and gloves when using strimmers and hedge trimmers, and gloves when handling the blades. Also, it should go without saying, turn off machines before going anywhere near moving parts.

Cuts by sharp instruments

Regular sharpening of cutting tools such as secateurs, scissors and knives reduces the number of accidents by reducing the force required when using them. However, accidents happen, as I discovered when I actually cut myself sharpening my secateurs, adding up to 6,500 hospitalizations each year from secateurs, scissors and pruners. Most bites can be avoided or minimized by wearing strong protective gardening gloves. When it comes to sharp tools, carry them around the garden like grenades.

Thorns and shards

I’m not a fan of roses, partly because of their thorns, inevitable during the annual wrestle to prune unruly bushes. Other spiky plants include holly, berberis and deadly pyracantha, all lovely burglar deterrents that have injured my forearms. Thorns not only cause a painful puncture wound, but they can also cause infection. If you are stung, wash the cut with soap as soon as possible. Seek medical attention if the redness spreads or the wound is especially painful—both signs of infection. Wear thick gardening gloves and work slowly when pruning. When the inevitable happens and you’re still scratching, channel Ripley in the final scene of Aliens – I do and always win.

A man slips in the mud
Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

Hearing damage

Given all the blades around, damaging your hearing is probably not high on the worry list, but loud noises can lead to long-term hearing loss and tinnitus. Exposure to mowers, drills and strimmers can be reduced by using ear defenders with a noise reduction rating between 25 and 35 decibels, the higher the better. Restricting the length of exposure also helps. Of course, using traditional hand tools wherever you want is a quieter strategy, giving your ears and your neighbors a more peaceful experience.

Eye injuries

Every vegetable grower knows the unlikely danger represented by bamboo canes – they can easily poke you in the eye when bent over weeds. I should know, having done this twice, luckily closed my eyes in time. Thorns regularly throw their branches into my eyes, no doubt revenge for cutting them off. Consider wearing goggles or tough gardening glasses and placing upside-down plant pots or rubber caps over the canes to minimize damage, while also making them more visible. Old terracotta pots look especially shabby chic.

Slips and falls

It may sound mundane but falls in parks are the most common hazard, affecting 115,000 people a year. I’ve tripped over carelessly placed hoses and rakes, poorly planned slopes, taken equally bad steps, and tumbled face first onto plant pots.

Keeping equipment away from lighting paths and steps at night certainly helps. Tripping on slopes and steps occurs when the changes in level are not clear, when the steps are too high or short, or when the slopes are not at the correct gradient. If possible, hire a professional landscaper who knows the correct sizes and slope angles to prevent accidents.

Back pain in woman lifting plant pot
Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

Falling from ladders is also a big risk. Always use them on a solid, flat surface with someone with you. If you’re working at certain heights you’ll need PPE like a suitable helmet – or, better yet, leave it to a professional.

Back pain from poor technique

A common gardening injury, and one I know well is back pain, usually from lifting heavy pots and bags of compost with poor technique or weeding for long periods of time. There’s an easy way to avoid it: If something is too heavy to lift, stop and get help. Always weed or dig using long-handled spades, forks and hoes from a standing position or squat or kneel for short periods to use hand tools. Take regular breaks and warm up by doing simple reverse. Many professional gardeners swear by yoga and pilates; You will often find me cat-cow among the compost.

Repetitive Strain injuries

After a particularly vigorous bout of digging seniors into the floor with a handfork, I’m currently suffering from painful tennis elbow. Despite its name, it is the gardeners who suffer the most; It should be renamed. Repeated digging and over-pruning can cause small tears or inflammation in the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to your elbow joint—similar injuries can happen to knees and wrists. It should heal in time if you rest – easier said than done during the growing season – and avoid the activity that caused it, but always seek advice from a physiotherapist.

Tennis elbow
Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

Reactions to plant juice

Everyone knows that the sap of giant hogweed causes blisters in sunlight (photosensitivity), but for some, other plants we brush with daily can cause even worse reactions. At 3-4m high, giant hogweed is easy to avoid but common wild parsnip is easy to avoid.

Euphorbias, found in almost every garden in the UK, also cause skin blisters – my ear became like bubblewrap once it came face to face with it. Many garden plants are poisonous if eaten, the common ornamental flower Aconitum (also known as Wolf’s-bane) being the most deadly. Common ivy can cause rashes and difficulty breathing when administered to some people.

A little research is needed to see what the most dangerous plants look like. If you develop a rash after contact with a particular sap or find that you have accidentally eaten a poisonous plant, seek medical attention immediately.

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I’m used to my friends making lobster jokes about my skin on holiday but when I started spending more time gardening in my early 30s, I wasn’t used to burning my skin on mild UK spring days. Always have a high-factor sun block on hand, even on days when you least expect it, because time flies when you’re lost deadheading.

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