Your Gardening Body: Using Loppers Safely Without Pain or Strain

Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog,  has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Here’s the first one:

Dear Anne,

By September, many trees and shrubs have grown out of bounds and finished blooming, so I find myself using my loppers often to try and keep plants looking good. Do you have any tips for reducing wrist and hand strain when pruning with loppers?

Hi Gen,

Many people get wrist and hand strain because they are working in “parts”. In other words, ask yourself about your attitude here.  Do you believe that the only way to use your pruners is through effort BELOW the elbow?  If you do, you are “muscling” through the task, as I call it.  Some of the heavy lifting and clipping can be supported by the shoulder blades.

Before we get to that, here’s a tip for the wrist:  Try to work with an unbroken line between the forearm and the hand. If your wrist is bent forward or back, or tilted to one side, the added challenge of heavy pruning may strain the muscles that are keeping them in that position.

Back to the shoulder blades. These are the big triangular bones that can be found at your upper back; they lay flat against the ribs.  This is one of those “thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone” kind of thing, except it’s the arm bone that’s connected to the shoulder blade.  The two bones of the forearm are connected to the “arm bone” and the many little wrist bones are connected to the forearm.  The fingertips are connected to the wrist bones.

Cultivate a Body-Regional Approach to the Work:

By being aware of the connection from your fingertips all the way to your shoulder blade, you can cultivate a more body-regional approach to the work, and avoid the “parts” approach.  This awareness helps bring the shoulder blades into the effort.  Let your shoulder blades take some of the weight of your arms, forearms, fingers and pruners from you.  Why not?

Also, try lifting your elbows.  This will keep the relationship between the fingertips (and therefore, the pruner) and the shoulder blades alive and well.

Do your best to not work in pain.

And here’s a little warm up exercise I taught in my workshop recently.  It may help you tune in to your shoulder blades and activate the whole area:

Tap your breastbone to bring awareness to that area.  Then,

Slowly extend arms out to either side.  As you do this, pretend that your arms are attached to your breast bone.  Imagine your arms are extending out to side FROM your breast bone.  Once the arms are all the way up to shoulder level (but don’t take them so high that you are in pain) SQUEEZE your two shoulder blades together in the back.

Let all the air out, and allow your arms down.  Shake out your arms, shoulders, hands, etc.  Use the release to get rid of stress you might be holding onto.

Do this about 3-5 times.

These tips and excercises should help you become more aware of your body as you prune, so you can avoid stressing your hands and wrists when using your loppers to prune.

***Do you have any areas that hurt you when you garden? Let us know in the comments, and Anne can answer your questions in future articles.***

Anne Asher has been in the bodywork and holistic health field for over 20 years.  She has worked in chiropractors’ offices, physical therapy clinics and in her own business.  She taught Pilates based exercise to people with chronic musculoskeletal pain for 5 years in Humboldt County.  Anne is now the Back and Neck Pain guide on is a New York Times web property.

If you like this post, you may also enjoy:

How to Weed Without Strain: Effortless Gardening with Cathy Butler


6 responses to “Your Gardening Body: Using Loppers Safely Without Pain or Strain”

  1. Thanks for commenting Anna! So glad it was helpful to you – it was to me, too! I have definitely changed a few things about my lopping posture and can feel the difference. I’ll pass your question on to Anne to see if she has any ideas why you might be getting blisters when you lop?

  2. Anna – I just wore some gloves that were a size too large the other day and ended up with a blister. Is it possible that’s causing your problem? It could be the chafing from a too-big glove moving around on you.

  3. Anna, I asked Anne about your blister issue and she said:

    “The only thing I could add might be to watch how much pressure/hand strain you are working with when you dig with the trowel. Again, see if there might be a way to get power from your trunk/core body that you can transfer to your hand via shoulders and arms, rather than making the poor little ‘ole hand muscle through all that work. Think of the wrist as an unbroken extension of the arm – try not to work with it bent in any way.”

    Hope this helps!