Getting Back Into the Garden

UT Health Austin clinicians offer guidance on gardening health and safety

Reviewed by: Sylvia Deily, DC, Cert MDT, and Emmy Feeler, MSN, APRN, FNP-C
Written by: Kaylee Fang

Cut flowers resting on a chair next to gardening gloves and shears.

With the arrival of spring, there’s no better time to dust off your gardening gloves. Whether you’re a seasoned horticulturist or a budding enthusiast eager to sow your first seeds, now’s the time to delve into the world of soil, seeds, and sprouts. Before you get ready to dig deep, reconnect with the earth, and watch your garden flourish, be sure to equip yourself with the appropriate tools, protective gear, and knowledge of how best to treat minor aches, pains, and scrapes.

While gardening is often considered a relaxing and enjoyable form of exercise, it can pose health risks that may lead to serious injuries or illnesses if proper safety precautions aren’t taken. Sylvia Deily, DC, Cert MDT, a chiropractor in UT Health Austin’s Back and Neck Pain Center within the Musculoskeletal Institute, and Emmy Feeler, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, a family nurse practitioner in UT Health Austin’s Walk-In Clinic, share tips on how to keep yourself healthy and safe to ensure you thrive as your garden blooms.

Learn more about the health benefits of gardening.

<br>Utilizing Appropriate Gardening Tools and Equipment

When it comes to gardening, having the right tools and equipment at your disposal can make a world of difference. Whether you’re tending to delicate plants, tackling stubborn weeds, or shaping your garden to perfection, access to proper tools and equipment can enhance your gardening experiencing by ensuring safety, saving valuable time, and minimizing unnecessary energy expenditure.


A kneeler is a tool designed to provide comfort and support to gardeners while performing tasks that require kneeling or squatting. It is typically a cushioned pad or platform that offers padding and protection for the knees.

“Kneelers often have handles or grips on the sides to assist with getting up and down,” explains Deily. “They are used to alleviate strain and pressure on the knees and back, allowing gardeners to work closer to the ground for extended periods without discomfort. Kneelers are particularly beneficial for planting, weeding, and low-level maintenance tasks in the garden.”

Types of gardening kneelers include:

  • Kneeler pads: A cushioned foam pad that provides comfort and support when kneeling on hard surfaces
  • Kneeler bench: A versatile tool that can be used as both a kneeling pad and a seat
  • Kneeler stool: A padded platform to rest the knees on and handles or grips for stability and support while getting up and down (often has adjustable height settings)
  • Rolling kneeler: A combination of a kneeling pad and a portable seat that is equipped with wheels, allowing gardeners to move around the garden while staying close to the ground

“Kneelers with padding are available in a variety of styles,” shares Feeler. “If you don’t have a kneeler, an old gym mat can be cut up into squares and placed around the yard to help with tasks that involve kneeling. You may also want to consider wearing kneepads. It’s important to choose a kneeler that suits your gardening needs and provides the necessary comfort and support for your knees and back.”


Gardening often involves tasks that require prolonged periods of kneeling, bending, or squatting. Having a stool provides a comfortable and convenient seating option, allowing you to work at a more comfortable height and reduce strain on your back, knees, and joints.

The benefits of using a stool include:

  • Mobility and flexibility: Allows you to position yourself closer to different areas of your garden, providing easy access to various plants or tasks without having to constantly stand up and reposition
  • Reduced fatigue: Allows you to take short breaks and rest periodically
  • Stability and balance: Provides you with better balance and support, allowing for more accurate movements and reducing the risk of accidentally damaging plants
  • Tool Storage: Provides a convenient place to keep your gardening tools, gloves, seeds, and other accessories, eliminating the need to constantly move back and forth to retrieve them

“It can be challenging to constantly shift from one knee to the other to lean or support yourself on the ground, and having a garden seat, bench, or stool nearby can help with avoiding flexibility restraints,” says Deily. “Sitting anywhere from 8 inches to 1 foot off the ground can also help you work more comfortably.”

Raised Beds

Raised beds are gardening structures that consist of elevated planting areas and vary in height from a few inches to several feet off the ground. “Raised beds offer a versatile and efficient gardening solution that can lead to healthier plants, higher yields, and a more enjoyable gardening experience,” notes Deily. “For accessibility and ease of working, two- to three-foot-high beds with a width of three to four feet help reduce leaning and squatting.”

Other advantages of raised beds include:

  • Better soil control: Allows for better control over the soil quality and composition, eliminating challenging soil conditions, such as heavy clay or sandy soil
  • Easier maintenance: Makes planting, weeding, pruning, and harvesting more accessible and convenient, reducing the stain on the back and knees
  • Enhanced Growing Conditions: Provides a warmer and drier soil environment, reducing weed competition
  • Improved drainage: Allows excess water to drain more easily, preventing waterlogging and potential root rot in plants
  • Pest and animal protection: Serves as a physical barrier, protecting plants against potential pests and animals

Ergonomic Tools and Equipment

Ergonomic tools and equipment are engineered to reduce strain and minimize the risk of repetitive stress injuries. “If you have a particular limitation in your wrists or your hands, such as arthritis, it might be useful to look for tools that have better grips and handles for improved leverage,” suggests Deily. “Ergonomic tools and equipment are designed to optimize comfort, efficiency, and safety to help promote a healthier and more enjoyable gardening experience.”

Types of ergonomic tools and equipment include:

  • Ergonomic hand tools: Provide a more natural and comfortable grip, reducing strain on the hand, wrist, and arm
  • Ergonomic gloves: Provides flexibility, allowing for a greater range of movement and a more secure grip
  • Lightweight wheelbarrows or garden carts: Distributes the weight more evenly, reducing the strain on the arms and back during transportation
  • Long-handled tools with extended reach: Minimizes the need for excessive bending and reaching and enables gardeners to work in a more upright posture, reducing strain on the back and allowing for better leverage
  • Watering systems with adjustable nozzles: Allows for customization of water flow and intensity, enabling efficient watering and reducing the need for excessive bending or stretching

Learn more about how you can optimize your gardening experience.

<br>Wearing Proper Gardening Gear

Wearing appropriate gardening gear helps minimize your risk of injuries, protects you from the sun’s harmful UV rays, provides comfort during various weather conditions, and reduces your exposure to harmful substances. It allows you to fully enjoy your gardening activities while prioritizing your safety and well-being.

Proper gardening gear includes:

  • Comfortable shoes: Minimizes the risk for injury against heavy rocks or soil
  • Ear plus or ear muffs: Protects hearing against loud machinery
  • Light-weight, breathable clothing: Provides a physical barrier that protects the skin against the sun and potentially harmful insects and plants
  • Safety glasses, goggles, or face shields: Minimizes the risk of eye injury when weeding or experiencing windy weather conditions
  • Well-fitting gloves: Provides protection from cuts, scrapes, and blisters
  • Wide-brimmed hat: Protects skin against the sun while also ensuring vision remains unobstructed

Learn more about outdoor sun safety.

<br>Treating Minor Aches, Pains, and Scrapes

While gardening can be a rewarding and fulfilling activity, it’s not uncommon to experience minor aches, pains, and scrapes along the way.

Insect Stings and Bites

Most insect bites and stings are mild and can be treated at home. If you get stung by a bee or wasp, remove the stinger immediately. “The longer the stinger stays in the skin, the more venom will be transferred,” explains Feeler. “Avoid using tweezers because they can squeeze more venom out of the stinger, increasing the amount of venom that is released into the wound. Instead, use your fingernail or a piece of gauze to gently scrape the stinger in a pulling motion to help remove the stinger without breaking it.”

Insects can carry a lot of bacteria, so it’s important to clean any wounds from stings or bites right away by washing the area thoroughly with soap and water. “Gardening can increase exposure to tetanus, a serious bacterial infection that enters the body through a wound or cut that has been contaminated with soil, dust, or other materials containing the bacteria,” warns Feeler. “Be sure to stay up to date with your tetanus boosters, which should occur every 10 years.”

To help reduce swelling and pain:

  • Apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or antihistamines (Allegra® or Benadryl®)
  • Avoid scratching or popping the wound

If you have a known allergy to bees or ants, be sure to have an EpiPen nearby.

Minor Cuts and Scrapes

While cuts and scrapes in the garden may be minor, it’s crucial to treat them right away to prevent potential complications, such as irritation and infection. Addressing these wounds immediately can help minimize the risk of further discomfort and ensure proper healing.

To treat a minor cut or scrape:

  • Wash the cut or scrape immediately with soap and water
  • Avoid using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which can harm the surrounding healthy tissue
  • Apply a thin layer of Vaseline or antibacterial ointment to keep the wound clean and minimize the risk of contamination
  • Cover the wound with a bandage to minimize exposure of bacteria and germs that can lead to infection

“Signs of infection for cuts and scrapes include surrounding redness, warmth, yellow-greenish discharge, increasing pain, foul smell, and tenderness,” shares Emmy. “If the cut is deep and won’t stop bleeding, even after you’ve applied pressure, then seek immediate help from a health care provider.”

If you experience difficulty breathing, dizziness, swelling around the face or full body, or uncontrollable bleeding, seek medical attention immediately.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.