Best Garden Tool Designs for Arthritis or the Elderly

In the Garden Sue May 23, 2024
74 People Read
garden tools

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase. As an Amazon associate I may earn on qualifying purchases 

Can you Garden with Arthritis?

Gardening is not just a hobby; it's a therapeutic activity that connects us with nature, provides exercise, and offers a sense of accomplishment.

As a Physical Therapist and Master Gardener, I know that the physical demands of gardening can sometimes be challenging for individuals with arthritis or the elderly.  The good news is that with advancements in design and technology, there are now a plethora of garden tools specifically crafted to alleviate strain and discomfort.

If you would like to learn about specific ergonomic garden tools, I have reviewed a lot of them here

Let's explore some of the best garden tool designs tailored for those with arthritis or advancing age

1. Lightweight garden tools:

The key to comfortable gardening not only lies in ergonomic design, but you also need light weight tools to decrease muscle strain. Heavy tools can be cumbersome and tiring to use, especially for individuals with arthritis or reduced strength.

Look for garden tools made from lightweight materials such as plastic or aluminum. These tools are easier to handle and maneuver, reducing fatigue during extended gardening sessions.

2. Handle Diameter:

Too large of a handle diameter or too small cause joint and muscle strain over time and are not ideal.

According to the Journal of Hand Therapy, the ideal diameter of the handle is around 33mm diameter (1.3 inches) for men and women. 

In general, if you close your fingers to your thumb this would be the ideal diameter for the garden handle needed for optimal grip strength. 

grip diameter measured

1.3 inches in diameter ✅

handle diameter of garden tool

TOO SMALL Handle Diameter  ❌

handle diameter of garden tools

optimal garden handle diameter for me ✅

The International Journal of Intergrated Engineering published a research that found that the diameter of the handle, compared to all the other ergonomic bells and whistles, was most significant for optimal grip strength. So when you go to buy garden tools, do the finger tip to thumb test to make sure its ideal for YOU

3. Long-Handled Tools:

The longer the handle the less force it takes to use the tool. For example long handled loppers / pruners are far easier to use on a 1 inch branch than hand pruners. Telescopic handles are also available, allowing for adjustable lengths to suit individual needs. I have a pair of telescoping loppers that I find very helpful in cutting branches. 

long handled loppers

Bending and stooping can be difficult for individuals with arthritis or limited mobility. Long-handled tools, such as rakes, hoes, and weeders, allow for gardening tasks to be performed while standing or sitting, minimizing strain on the back and knees.

4. Easy-Grip Tools:

Gripping small tools can be challenging for those with arthritis or weak hands. Look for garden tools with easy-grip rubber handles that provide a more secure grip.

Textured or rubberized handles can enhance grip up to 58%, reducing the risk of slippage. 

rubberize handle to  help grip

Rubber textured handles provide lowest hand muscle effort

5. Handle Orientation or angle:

Keeping your wrist in a neutral position when using garden tools is critical to providing opitimal grip strength. According to a review of research in the International Journal of Integrated Engineering,  handle angulation influences the grip strength of the hand.

angulation of garden tools for wrist in neutral

My wrist is in neutral position here, because the tool is angulated. (wrist is not flexed, extended, or deviated side to side)

6. Joint-Friendly Designs:

Traditional gardening tools often require repetitive motions that can exacerbate joint pain. Opt for tools with joint-friendly designs, such as ratchet pruners and loppers, which require less force to use. These tools utilize a mechanism that multiplies hand strength, allowing for easier cutting with minimal effort.

Here is a video comparing traditional long handled pruners/loppers to ratcheting ones:

Motorized tools are another option:

Cordless Battery Operated Pruning Shears 

Long Auger Drill bits for planting bulbs and plants in garden

Cordless Hedge Trimmer

Leaf Blower

7. Knee-Saving Gear:

Kneeling and squatting can be challenging for individuals with arthritis or knee pain. Invest in knee-saving gear such as foam kneeling pads or garden stools with built-in knee pads. These accessories provide cushioning and support, allowing for comfortable gardening without putting excess strain on the knees. 

In this article there is a full review of the Best Stools, Garden kneeler and Carts for Pain Free Gardening

kneeler for garden

8. Handle Grip Span:

The span of the handles is believed by engineers to be one of the important design factors. 

grip span of a pruner

Research has found that the span for the best grip strength should be any where from 40 to 60 mm of distance between the handles when your fingers are extended. This depends on your hand size, of course. 

grip span of a pruner

Grip span of 60 mm here is optimal for gripping

9. Handle Flange: 

Adding a flange to garden tools does not significantly influence hand grip. 

handle flange

10. Spring stiffness:

The spring between the handles of pliers or pruners assists in the grasping and releasing of the handles during operation. As a Physical Therapist, I find it easier to work with tools with a spring to assist in opening the handles of the tool, so the finger extensor muscles don't have to work as hard over time. 

There is not a lot of research, however, in relation to grip strength when using garden tools with a spring. 

11: Vibration of power tools: 

Gripping handles of any power tool or lawn mower that vibrate for long periods of time are at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Vibration can increase muscle fatigue, cause numbness and overtime decrease your grip strength.

According to a study in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, a higher vibration magnitude of 31.5 to 63 hz and longer exposure, is shown to have a greater decrement in grip strength.  

Use padded gloves (on Amazon )when using power tools or lawn mowers to decrease vibration forces on your hands.

12. Tool Sharpness: 

Your garden tool blades clearly influence how hard your body and hands have to work. The sharper the tools the lower the grip strength!  Here is an article on how to sharpen your hand pruners

Frequently asked questions: 

How to Garden with a disability?

Gardening with a disability may present some challenges, but it's entirely possible with the right adjustments and tools. Here are some tips to help you enjoy gardening:

1. Adapt Your Garden Layout: Consider raised beds or containers at a height that is comfortable for you to reach from a sitting position if mobility is limited. This reduces the need to bend or kneel.

2. Choose Low-Maintenance Plants: Opt for low-maintenance plants that require less care and attention. Native plants are often a good choice as they are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions.

3. Use Adaptive Tools: There are many adaptive gardening tools available designed to make gardening tasks easier for people with disabilities. Tools with ergonomic handles, extended reach tools, and lightweight tools can help reduce strain on your body.

4. Create Accessible Pathways: Ensure pathways in your garden are wide enough for mobility aids like wheelchairs or walkers. Use smooth, flat surfaces to make movement easier.

5. Watering Systems: Consider installing a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses to make watering easier and less physically demanding.

6. Use Raised Beds: Raised beds can reduce the need for bending and kneeling. You can build them to a height that suits your needs, making gardening more accessible.

7. Adapt Planting Techniques: Modify planting techniques to suit your abilities. For example, use a trowel with an extended handle or consider using a planting stool or bench for comfort.

8. Seek Community Support: Look for community gardens or gardening groups where you can share tasks and knowledge with others. They may offer resources and assistance that can make gardening more manageable.

9. Consider Vertical Gardening: If space is limited or bending is difficult, vertical gardening allows you to grow plants upward on structures like trellises, walls, or fences.

10. Take Breaks and Listen to Your Body: Pace yourself and take breaks when needed. Listen to your body and avoid overexertion to prevent injuries.

What Garden tools are good for arthritis?

It's essential to look for characteristics that minimize strain on the joints and provide a comfortable grip. Here are some features to consider:

1. Ergonomic Design

2. Padded or Cushioned Grips

3. Lightweight garden tools

4. Extended handles

5. Easy-to-Use Mechanisms: spring-loaded handles or ratcheting mechanisms, cordless electric tools

6. Angled handle tools

7. Garden stools and kneelers 

8. Padded gloves when using tools that vibrate 

9. Keep garden tools sharp

How do you garden as we age?

work smarter, not harder

Are cordless gardening tools any good for seniors?

Yes! Here are some garden tools I have reviewed

What to buy an elderly gardener?

Here are my favorite gifts for the elderly gardener

Gardening can be a fulfilling and enjoyable activity for individuals of all ages, including those with arthritis or advancing age. By selecting the right garden tools with ergonomic designs, easy-grip handles, and joint-friendly features, individuals can continue to pursue their passion for gardening with comfort and ease.

Remember to listen to your body, take breaks as needed, and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature.

Happy gardening!

Disclosure:  Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase. As an Amazon associate I may earn on qualifying purchases