10 Best Tips for Preventing and Reducing Knee and Back Pain while Gardening

Easy Hamstring and Quadriceps Stretches

Easy Stretches for Loosening Your Back

The Most Important Gardening Tool - You

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

Tip 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 quadricepsand the hamstrings. The video to the right 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.

Let a Cart or Wheelbarrow Do the Heavy Work

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

Tip 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 that I can unload a bag of mulch or stones or sand onto 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 bucket-full 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.

The Right Way To Lift a Heavy Object

Tip 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.

Tip 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

Floral profusion on the waterfront.
Floral profusion on the waterfront. | Source

Window Boxes for Dramatic Effect and Comfortable Maintenance

Window boxes are easy on the back and knees.
Window boxes are easy on the back and knees. | Source

Tip 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.

Tip 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)

A Smart Alternative Planting Method: Raised Beds

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

Get Plants and Containers off the Ground when Potting

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. | Source

Tip 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!

Cushion Your Knees

Tip 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

Tip 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.

An Effective and Economical Homemade Ice Pack

Tip 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.


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.

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Comments 46 comments

Lissie profile image

Lissie 5 years ago from New Zealand

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!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Lissie, you just said it all!

Cathleena Beams profile image

Cathleena Beams 5 years ago from Lascassas, Tennessee

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)

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Thanks for the good words, Cathleena!

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

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!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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. :)

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

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

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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. :)

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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!

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

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!

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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

robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

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

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

A pound of cure, I believe. TY robie2.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA

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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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

MM Del Rosario profile image

MM Del Rosario 5 years ago from NSW, Australia

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...

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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.

Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

LOVE the lady in the wheelbarrow picture!

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

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

Julester profile image

Julester 5 years ago from England

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

Fellow Mumbaite profile image

Fellow Mumbaite 5 years ago from India

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

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

@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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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

applecsmith profile image

applecsmith 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

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

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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

tsmog profile image

tsmog 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

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)

jrport profile image

jrport 5 years ago

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.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

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!


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 5 years ago

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.

jean2011 profile image

jean2011 5 years ago from Canada

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

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

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!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

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! ;-)

charizarie profile image

charizarie 5 years ago from Philippines

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.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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!

charizarie profile image

charizarie 5 years ago from Philippines

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

I will also be writing about our country soon.

GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

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!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

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. :)

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