I’ve overdone it. Last week I injured my right arm just as the gardening season is starting. It was a silly little thing and I didn’t realise how serious it potentially was at first.
After a couple of weeks of heavy lifting, operating weighty machinery and other tasks in the excitement of spring preparation, my elbow gave up trying to lift a particularly heavy bit of soil while weeding with a hand fork. At first it didn’t seem too bad and I carried on, the mistake that quickly made it worse.
The pain is on the outside of the elbow, triggered when I twist my forearm or lift anything. It’s a clear sign of tennis elbow, which I am calling gardening elbow. It’s a common problem that affects many people and actually affects many more gardeners than it ever did tennis players. So I’m renaming it.
Gardening elbow happens when you over strain the tendon – the bits attaching the muscle to your bone – on your forearm and can happen from any repetitive activity, such as typing, sports and gardening. According to the NHS (who wrongly call it tennis elbow) this strain causes tiny tears and inflammation of the tendon. It can happen on the inside too, called golfer’s elbow.
While I am right handed, I have always been fairly ambidextrous in my mind, I can control both arms in the same way. My hand writing has always been appalling and it stayed with me when, aged 10 or 11, my teacher said I was probably left-handed but it was too late to switch (I’ve never been sure it was too late).
Despite that, my right arm is unmistakably the dominant one and if you’ve ever tried doing something like hoeing, using secateurs or a trowel with your other arm, it’s amazing how useless the muscles are. Even brushing my teeth left-handed is comical.
So here I am in the warm weeks of March as spring kicks in feeling my initial attempt to be positive fading away as each wasted day passes by. Gardening elbow is said to last from 6 – 12 months if the articles online are to be believed, I’m hoping it will heal much faster than that.
I plan to see a physio, use supports and rest. Rest seems to be the only real way of healing gardening elbow but as we enter the peak of spring with our large garden entering its second year with us looking after it, and all of my client gardens to be set out and planted, the weight of what this might mean I am currently trying to ignore. It’s even proving hard to type this article, you’ll be glad it will be shorter as a result.
To be positive, today I will go out again and practice hoeing and weeding with my left arm to train the muscles up, being careful not to over do it. If you’re reading this, hopefully it’s a useful reminder to prevent this happening to you by being more careful than I was. Take breaks, especially with heavy or strenuous tasks. If it hurts, stop immediately.