Skip to main content

10 Tips for Reducing Knee and Back Pain While Gardening

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Sherri has expertise in landscape design. Some of her hobbies include gardening and cooking.

If you're not careful, you can end up with a sore back or knees after gardening or doing yardwork.

If you're not careful, you can end up with a sore back or knees after gardening or doing yardwork.

Knee Pain After Gardening? Back Pain After Yardwork?

Preventing and managing knee problems and back pain are elements of gardening as important as selecting and growing seeds and plants. Just as much care and attention need to be paid to your body as to the design and maintenance of your garden.

Think of your body as another gardening tool, like a pair of clippers or a trowel; if you let these tools rust because of neglect or allow them to become damaged through misuse, then they cannot perform their functions in the garden. No matter how strong and fit you may be, a stiff and sore knee or a back strain will pay you a visit sooner or later if you are not mindful of the stresses gardening activities can put on muscles and joints.

Here are the ten best tips for preventing and reducing the back and knee aches and pains associated with gardening.

10 Tips for Preventing and Reducing Pain While Gardening

  1. Stretch and warm up.
  2. Know the limits of what you can lift and carry.
  3. Lift from your legs, not your back.
  4. Take your time.
  5. Vary tasks in the garden.
  6. Design your garden for comfort—be creative by using alternative planting methods.
  7. Use a potting bench or garden bench.
  8. Protect your knees from injury and stress with kneelers, knee pads, and kneeling cushions.
  9. Protect your back from injury and stress by using telescoping and long-handled tools.
  10. Relieve pain and strain with ice packs.
An English garden.

An English garden.

1. Stretch and Warm Up

If a morning workout or walk is part of your daily routine, then you are ahead of the game when asking your body to perform gardening activities.If you do exercise regularly, a stretch and a warm-up before gardening are smart precautions to take; if exercise is not part of your daily routine, these stretches are absolutely necessary to safeguard your knees and back.

Knees: The muscles that protect your knees are at the front and back of your thighs, the quadriceps, and the hamstrings. The video below demonstrates two simple stretches, one for each. You can do these stretches standing up; if you choose to stand, make sure you support yourself by holding onto a wall or heavy piece of furniture.

Back: Why we humans evolved to be upright, walking on legs, is beyond me. The spine has so much work to do and such a heavy load to bear. I don’t know about you, but I’m most comfortable lying down or on all fours, arching or curling my back to relieve stress.

I suffered from chronic lower back pain from the time I was in my late teens until my mid-forties. How I finally achieved a more-or-less pain-free later life is another story, but when it comes to gardening, I follow the advice in this video. I stretch before, during, and after.

Easy Hamstring and Quadriceps Stretches

Easy Stretches for Loosening Your Back

2. Know the Limits of What You Can Lift and Carry

I know that a 40-pound bag of mulch is beyond my ability to lift and carry. I can shove or pull it around, but that’s about it. I have a handy cart into which I can unload a bag of mulch or stones or sand from the tail of my SUV and then wheel it to where it needs to go in the garden.

If you don’t have a cart or wheelbarrow that you can shove a heavy bag onto, then open up the bag and take the time to shovel or trowel out a bucketful of material that you can carry with ease. Lightening the load this way and making frequent trips back and forth will take more time but it will also keep you in optimum condition.

A cart or wheelbarrow takes the strain off legs and back.

A cart or wheelbarrow takes the strain off legs and back.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Dengarden

The Right Way to Lift a Heavy Object

3. Lift From Your Legs, Not Your Back

Even if you are picking up a trowel that landed in the dirt, use your knees and legs to bring your hands to the ground instead of bending over from the waist with legs straight.

Bending from the knees allows you to keep your center of gravity, making it less likely that you will pitch face-forward into the garden. You can also think about it this way if you like: your butt looks a lot better and reveals a lot less of what you’d rather people didn’t see when you bend from the knees.

When it comes to lifting, you want the energy coming from your legs, not from your back. I’m reminded of a debilitating injury I suffered in my early twenties. Being young and immortal, I attempted to lift one end of a 200-pound desk by bending over from the waist and lifting. Four months later, after weeks of physical therapy, pain killers, and limited mobility, I was finally able to return to work.

4. Take Your Time

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Unless you have helpers to do your bidding, your garden will have to take only as much time as you can safely give it on your own. Slow down. Enjoy the start of gardening activities with a cup of coffee or tea, smell the roses, and listen to the birds.

Take breaks often, and when you do, admire the progress you've made so far without making yourself crazy thinking about the zillions of things you haven’t been able to accomplish. Lean back in a comfortable patio chair, put your feet up, and have that second cup of tea or coffee. Before resuming your gardening activities, stretch out your lower back, and also your hamstrings and quadriceps if you feel the need.

Hanging baskets help you avoid stooping and bending.

Hanging baskets help you avoid stooping and bending.

5. Vary Tasks in the Garden

Perform different tasks alternately to avoid over-stressing one group of muscles. For example, if you've been on your knees weeding for a half-hour, make your next activity one that allows you to stand. Pruning taller shrubs or tending to hanging baskets will give your leg and back muscles a welcome respite.

6. Design Your Garden for Comfort—Be Creative by Using Alternative Planting Methods

It's been only in recent years that I’ve started to pay close attention to how I want things arranged in my garden to suit my physical comfort. After too many years of having back problems, and now having knees that spend more time yelling at me than whispering, I see my garden differently.

Where once I would design my garden for optimum beauty and productivity, my first design consideration now is ease of access. Here are a few design ideas for preventing and reducing knee and back pain in the garden.

  • Hanging baskets (no stooping or bending with these)
  • Large barrel planters (the taller the better)
  • Window boxes (These can be mounted on patio railings as well as underneath windows.)
  • Table planters
  • Raised beds (24 inches tall, by 4 feet wide, by however long is desirable)
  • Climbing plants (Many flowers, peas, beans, and squashes come in climbing varieties; look for opportune places in your garden to let plants grow up to your comfort level.)
An outstanding raised garden design that doesn't stress knees and back.

An outstanding raised garden design that doesn't stress knees and back.

Potting benches allow you to stand upright, keeping back and knees in comfortable positions.

Potting benches allow you to stand upright, keeping back and knees in comfortable positions.

7. Use a Potting Bench or Garden Bench

Because I make use of large containers and hanging baskets more than I have in the past, a potting bench became essential.

When working with plant containers, use a potting bench or garden bench to hold containers at a height that allows you to stand or sit comfortably to clean pots, plant them, and prune their contents.

Don’t be squatting, kneeling, or bending from the waist if you don't have to!

8. Protect Your Knees From Injury and Stress With Kneelers, Knee Pads, and Kneeling Cushions

When we’re kids, we think nothing of being on our knees, crashing to the ground on them from standing, using them to loft soccer balls, and counting on them to get us from sitting on the floor to standing without using our arms. But later, and not so much later, knees don’t seem to be the structural friends they once were.

If your garden is not designed for keeping you off your knees, then there are many ways to cushion and protect your knees while you work.

  • Garden kneeler seats consist of padded cushions attached to a metal or plastic frame which also has hand-holds. They allow you to go from kneeling to standing with the assistance of your upper body. Most garden kneelers also convert into a handy, padded bench for sitting.
  • Kneeling cushions or kneeling pads are thickly padded mats that you place on the ground and then kneel on.
  • Knee pads are devices you strap to each knee so that when you kneel, your knees are cushioned. Brick layers, carpet installers, and football players use these to protect the knee from impact.

Remember to weed while kneeling, not by standing and bending at the waist, and keep your back straight.

Unusual but Practical Long-Handled Gardening Tools

9. Protect Your Back From Injury and Stress by Using Telescoping and Long-Handled Tools

Use long-handled tools to avoid kneeling, bending, or squatting. Long-handled tools include rakes, shovels, cultivators, hoes, edgers, grass sheers, weed pullers, bulb planters, and trowels. Telescoping tools are especially handy when you have tasks to do at both ground level and in raised beds. With a simple twist, these tools can be shortened from their fully extended length to about 20 inches or less.

10. Relieve Pain and Strain With Ice Packs

Sooner or later, knees and back are going to be uncomfortable after overdoing it in the garden. After gardening, ease stiff and sore knees and back with a 15-minute ice pack.

Only You Know Your Limits

Most of the information in this article comes from my own experience throughout many years of gardening, but you can find authoritative, supporting information by following the resource links below. Only you know what your physical conditions and limitations are, so if you have any questions or doubts about your own aches and pains, please see your medical provider.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on November 09, 2011:

GmaGoldie, I love your've "been there, done that." Your testament might wake up a few hamstrings and quads that have been sleeping for too long. :)

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on November 09, 2011:

As an avid gardener I LOVE this! I injured my knees many years ago. I stopped moving because they hurt. No one told me that the muscles around the knees protect the knee joint. Once I started strengthening these muscles, my knee joint improved.

Excellent article! Thank you!

charizarie from Philippines on September 28, 2011:

Thanks ms. sally. yes, i will. I just discovered hubpages recently...

I will also be writing about our country soon.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 28, 2011:

charizarie, thank you so much for reading and leaving your kind words. Perhaps you'll will be writing soon about the beautiful flowers in the Philippines? Welcome to HubPages!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 28, 2011:

What's that expression, MsLizzy, youth is wasted on the young? I don't think that will ever change! I'm glad to hear you have one of those kneelers. They are so smart, for everyone, regardless of age.

Thanks for leaving such an interesting comment and for the congrats!

charizarie from Philippines on September 28, 2011:

Thank you for the tips ms. sally, i love gardening but most of the time, i find it a little difficult because of my scoliosis. These tips will really help me enjoy gardening more. We have many beautiful flowers here in the Philippines.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 26, 2011:

Congrats on Hub of the Day! Very well-done article, indeed! As I've aged, I've become oh-so-much less bendable than I used to be. I still have a fair amount of flexibility, but I'm no "Gumby."

I love my kneeling bench--it looks just like the one in your second video.

We don't have the money for materials to create the raised beds, although I sure wish we did--not only for our backs and knees, but to protect our plantings from our Robo-Gophers!

I get into trouble with the 'don't bend from the waist' advice, because I have a bum knee that won't let me squat down..the old "damned if I do; damned if I don't" quandary.

As you said, everyone needs to adapt everything to their own body. Great advice, here--if only we could go back to childhood and grow up again already knowing all this! ;-)

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 26, 2011:

Trish, thank you my friend for your always enriching comments. You've experienced my gardens with me and held my hand through many back problems. I so appreciate your love and support...and yes, write that Hub!

@jean2011, ty so much for your good words and votes!

@Peggy, tsmog hit the nail on the head for me. Overdoing it is a matter of wanting things to be done now and also disregarding the harm we visit on ourselves when we choose not to slow down. When the cooler weather sets in for you, I hope you find a pace that keeps you out of trouble! TY so much for the good words and the ratings. ~Sherri

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 26, 2011:

LOL, tsmog, #4's a really important one for me, too. I have a tendency to want to have everything done RIGHT NOW! It's tough to slow down sometimes, but it really is the smart thing to do.

@jrport, wow! You've been through a lot. I'm glad you found something useful here.

@J.S.Matthew, thank you so much for the good words, the voting, and for sharing!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 26, 2011:

applecsmith and ramdomcreative, thanks for the congrats. It was quite a surprise to see this selected as yesterday's Hub of the Day! Glad you found this info helpful and clearly presented.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 25, 2011:

I tend to overdo it when I get out in the yard. Will keep some of these good tips in mind the next time I plant to do some heavy duty gardening. Has just been too hot this summer to do much more than the minimum chores necessary. Looking forward to some cooler weather soon. Rating this useful and up!

jean2011 from Canada on September 25, 2011:

Very useful tips! Thank you for sharing and congratulations! I have voted this hub useful.

trish1048 on September 25, 2011:

Wonderful advice, which I know definitely comes from your years and years of experience. One of my favorite things was your herb garden. It simply amazed me. What a lovely thing to do when planning a meal, to be able to walk out to the garden and pick what you need.

I'm glad I can live my life vicariously through your gardening adventures, and all the fruits of your labor of love :)

Echoing others, definitely congratulations on Hub of the Day! Perhaps I can put my thinking cap on, and write a hub about how not to go down a flight of stairs. My knees and leg muscles are still smarting from a tumble I took at work Friday morning.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on September 25, 2011:

Congratulations on being selected for the Hub of the Day! You offer some great suggestions here on how to perform gardening chores without hurting yourself. Voting up and sharing!


jrport on September 25, 2011:

Very informative!! I especially liked the videos! I have seven crushed vertebra and I excersize regularly, but it never hurts to read articles like this! Thanks, and I'll visit again.


Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on September 25, 2011:

Now I'm thinking about the safari's I have to do. I call them safari's = weeding safari, ant safari, dead-head safari , , ,thanks for sharing. #4 is the most important one for me (smile)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 25, 2011:

Great hub! I love the way you broke everything down and gave clear explanations. Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

Carrie Smith from Dallas, Texas on September 25, 2011:

Congratulations on being selected as the Hub of the Day. Your tips, pictures and videos are very detailed and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 25, 2011:

@Thelma, Julester, and FM...thank you all for reading and leaving your affirming comments. ~Sherri

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 25, 2011:

@Maren, I love that pic too. She makes everything look so effortless, with perfect posture, arms comfortably extended, and a sure stride. Wish she could help me out in my garden for the fall cleanup! TY for your great comment.

Fellow Mumbaite from India on September 25, 2011:

Interesting tips provided within the hub. Most of them are easy and can be definitely followed. Useful hub!

Julester from England on September 25, 2011:

I'll keep this all in mind next time I venture out to do some weeding!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on September 25, 2011:

Very great hub. Thanks for these good information and the tips you have given me. Love the photos too.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on September 25, 2011:

LOVE the lady in the wheelbarrow picture!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 22, 2011:

A potting bench is SO the right tool. After spending years squatting, or on my knees, wrangling pots and soil and plants, I'm done with that. I refuse to go to them at their level, no matter how much I love them. It's their turn to come to me!

I so envy your springtime coming. We are just now getting into autumn, with the promise of hunkering down into winter.

MM Del Rosario from NSW, Australia on September 22, 2011:

I think i need a potting bench.... thanks for all the tips, it is sprintime here in australia and I will be spending more time in the garden , these tips will be very useful...

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 22, 2011:

Steph, I know what you mean about not being able to stand up! Not only is that a painful position to be in, it's also not very flattering. Unfortunately, it took me a couple of those experiences a few years ago to finally stop overdoing it. Glad you find this useful, and thanks so much for the kind words. ~Sherri

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on September 22, 2011:

Super hub! I still remember not being able to stand up after a strenuous day of gardening a few years ago. Excellent work! Voted up and useful - Steph

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 22, 2011:

tlpoague, thank you for sharing your experiences and leaving the good words!

Tammy on September 21, 2011:

Great tips! I seemed to have done more gardening in my pots this year, than in the past. It was mostly a fluke deal than planned. I found a large number of them hidden in my garage. I never thought about doing the stretching, but do try to mix up my "chores" so I don't get so sore. Thumbs up! Thanks for sharing these tips.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 21, 2011:

A pound of cure, I believe. TY robie2.

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on September 21, 2011:

Excellent advice, ST, especially the part about taking it easy and stretching. I wrenched my back in my garden this summer and was laid up for several days with muscle spasms-- not a pretty picture. We all know what an ounce of prevention is worth, don't we? Beautifully organized and written as usual with top notch info-- thumbs up up up

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 21, 2011:

Simone, please do, and many thanks. One back or knee saved...who knows the future implications? :)

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 21, 2011:

RTalloni, I so agree about an "important". TY for your's our fall, and a lot of clean-up to be done, but it's getting into spring in the southern hemisphere, and I am always happy to hear from friends in Australia.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 21, 2011:

What excellent advice. I've got a bunch of gardening friends who could really benefit from this Hub! I'll have to nudge it their way.

RTalloni on September 20, 2011:

Thanks much for this important reminder and great tips. Perfect timing for fall gardening after a long hot summer.

Voted up and useful and interesting--there should be an important!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 19, 2011:

Nancy, I'm so glad you shared your experience here. Many don't realize that the quads and hams are the primary muscle groups responsible for efficient knee functioning. And your story is proof!

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on September 19, 2011:

I'm in physical therapy right now because of my knees. It's mostly Arthritis causing me pain. But for the past couple of months, I have been strengthening my Quads and Hamstrings and it's making all the difference in the world.

I'm glad you included stretching in your article. It's so important.

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 19, 2011:

Hi Michelle! I love it when something intended for one use can be multi-purposed. You're all set! Thanks for reading and leaving the good words. :)

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on September 18, 2011:

Hi Sally, these are wonderful tips as we need to take care of our bodies even during gardening. Well I have knee pads already as we use this during our musical theater

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 18, 2011:

Haha > Hubby! Gardening ADD, love it! Isn't it amazing that this "disorder" is actually protecting your muscles and joints? I really appreciate your generous comments and vote, Dolores, because you know your stuff. :)

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on September 18, 2011:

Great suggestions. Wish I had thought of this one! My favorite is the one where you suggest altering movements. I spent one day mulching and weeding for a woman and boy did I hurt! Usually, at home, I jump around from one chore to another. My husband calls it gardening ADD but I call it avoiding pain! Voted up!

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 18, 2011:

Thanks for the good words, Cathleena!

Cathleena Beams from Tennessee on September 17, 2011:

Great hub with very nice photos and videos too. You did a great job with this.

Best of luck to all of us on Hubpages! :o)

Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 16, 2011:

Lissie, you just said it all!

Elisabeth Sowerbutts from New Zealand on September 16, 2011:

I am contemplating going out in the garden at the moment - but procastinating on here instead LOL! Yeah I have frequently not been able to move the day after a garden clean out!

Related Articles