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Best handtools for arthritic hands, elbows and shoulders

 
Posts: 44
Location: Port Angeles, WA, United States
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hugelkultur forest garden bee
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What hand tools do you use that accomplish serious digging, surface tilling, weeding and chop/drop power without transferring that energy into painful hand and shoulders? I have been using a new hori knife this year, an expensive ($45) one from Japan with a bigger grip and longer blade, but I still find my shoulders are sore after a session. Has anyone tried the Fokin hoe? With the bent blade, it looks like looks like it would offer some mechanical advantage and leveraging that could dissapate the forces, but I wonder about the size of the grip ... it looks large in Sepp's hands.

Like many other gardeners, I am dealing with the painful reality of painful body parts just when I finally have the time to really 'dig deeper' and get my permaculture food forest/vegetable gardens producing year round. At nearly-60 years, I never thought I'd be slowing down this soon!

Remember the old joke: "Doctor, it hurts whenever I do this...." And the doc says, "Then don't do that!" My doc basically said that to me for real the other day, and my response was "Hell no!" But I will need some better tools to keep going...any suggestions welcomed (for hand tools. I have read a lot of good info here on permies about back-saving tools and tips. In this thread I'd like to focus on effective hand tools that reduce hand, elbow and shoulder discomfort.) Thanks!
 
carla beemer
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Location: Port Angeles, WA, United States
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hugelkultur forest garden bee
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Adding to my initial post: I've read the Fokin hoe reviews, and have been wondering if any of you who have one have made a short handle for it instead of a lobg hoe handle? I've also thought about making a handle for it that reaches to my elbow....any thoughts.
 
pollinator
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I have the Fokin hoe and I love it.  I would add a small caveat.  I made the rectangular handle first, and it's very uncomfortable.  I will be making a round handle for it next.  

The only other thing I would add is that a short strength training workout 2 or 3 days a week may help with the other issues.  It helps me tremendously.  I would start light and avoid any exercises that cause you significant joint pain.  Adding some strength to the muscles surrounding the painful can joints help a great deal.  The muscle can take up more of the brunt of the work and the joints don't have to put up with as much.  Best of luck to you.
 
carla beemer
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Location: Port Angeles, WA, United States
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hugelkultur forest garden bee
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Thanks for the input Trace! You are right about strength training: as a retired trail crew worker, I have always followed a regular strength and flexibility regimen. Given my genetic markers, I have been able to fend off the most heinous symptoms of the type of arthritis I have...but at this point, "the tool's the thing!"

Levers, pulleys, fulcrums: all of these strategies make the lifting work of farming and gardening much easier. I can bend, straighten and lift. But the wear and tear, plus the disease influences, take a heavy toll on the hands, shoulders and elbows. Sometimes I wear padded mechanic's gloves, and those can give me extra time in the garden... but basically, I have been using the same old tools for years. The new hori knife made me think there could be newer tools out there, meant to ease the forces applied to hands and arms. That Fokin blade is new to me, and I am wondering what else is out there!
 
carla beemer
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hugelkultur forest garden bee
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Here is a shortened tool handle similar to how I am imagining the Fokin hoe could be used: https://www.leevalley.com/en-us/shop/garden/garden-care/hoes/72074-lee-valley-mid-length-trenching-hoe

I am thinking of making some of these semi-short handles, perhaps with a bit of a curve to match my forearm, and with a padded strap to transfer the digging force from my hand and wrist to the entire forearm.
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master steward
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To my knowledge I don't have arthritis though I still have problems holding things. It has gotten where I can't hold heavy things. I retired all my cast iron has they are just too heavy for me.

I don't use a lot of different hand tools. I have 3 or 4 that are my favorite:

This is called a "crows foot cultivator" and it is my favorite of all the tools I use:




These are "pruners" and I use them for all sorts of things, like pruning roses, snapping weeds at the base, trimming tree limbs off the clothes line:




I love my long handled "hedge clippers":




And I use a "spade" similar to this for digging trenches and covering seeds:


 
carla beemer
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Location: Port Angeles, WA, United States
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hugelkultur forest garden bee
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Thank you Anne! I like that all your handles aren't too large. Who makes the crows foot cultivator? I can't read the handle. It has more tines than the ones I have at home.
I had a bout of carpel-tunnel syndrome in my hands about a dozen years ago. Things would just slip out of my grasp without warning sometimes-not a good thing on a job site!
 
master pollinator
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I've been living here a little over two years, and began vegetable gardens last year.  I'm 66.  I was in continual pain last summer, in my knees, hips, elbows, wrists . . . oh, and back.  (This has happened to me over the years when I do a lot of gardening.) I started physical therapy.  It's been slow changing, but now that I'm gardening again I can really feel the difference!  I've had PT before for many of the same problems, but either this PT is more talented, or they've been improving what they do over the years.  

I ski in the winter, so I hadn't slacked off completely, but the movements are different.  I even started (online) Pilates classes a month or two ago, which is a form of exercise I never thought I would be able to do.  And I can tell how much stronger I'm getting.  Sadly, it hasn't gotten rid of the arthritis!  My hands (and toes!  who said arthritis could go into my toes?) are weaker than they used to be, and the swollen joints hurt.

Sounds like you've been strong much of your adult life, Carla.  This might not apply to you.  But I've been really surprised at the difference.  I retired last summer from a very sedentary job and I'm doing more physical work than ever.
 
carla beemer
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I really appreciate your comments Anne, and also am so happy for you that your PT is working, and your hard work is resulting in more strength and less pain.

Years ago I saw a pysical therapist for several months over the winter for crippling back pain. I was afraid I'd never get back to work on trails again. He had a truism that he said all the time, and I still repeat it to myself quite often: "When you stop moivng, you start dying."

Yes, I have been strong and active my entire life: lots of strength training, PT, yoga, physical labor, sports, climbing, etc....but when arthritis hits, and there are many kinds, at some point a person has to go looking for different tools and/or ways of doing things that mkae it possible to keep doing the things we enjoy. I'm juts now getting to that point-where all my training and pt and stretching etc have gotten me to so far, and still it hurts, and still the joints don't want to move. I'm not complaining, at all! I feel very fortunate to have the mobility that I do. But I am also eager to hear what tools others are using that might make life in the garden a bit easier!
 
Anne Pratt
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What a kind response!  I had been thinking that my post mostly missed the mark, and I was just carrying on about my own experiences.

I have looked at a few websites since I wrote the post, since I’m not far behind in needing some assistance. This site has some gardening tools:

https://www.arthritissupplies.com/arthritis-gardening-tools.html

And I liked this guy’s general approach:

https://www.daviddomoney.com/complete-guide-to-gardening-with-arthritis/

although it doesn’t look quite as applicable to strong women who blaze trails!  He has a section on tools in the article.
 
pollinator
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Important topic! I believe there is not enough emphasis on good tools. Most tools are for average height healthy men. I am a small strong man, still it struck me there are not many tools for different people. While many hands make light work, the tool industry overlooks more than half the population. A real shame for gardens worldwide, that special touch females posses , the wisdom elderly work with, the gratefulness challenged people can put into their work, the playfulness of children, it all goes uncatered for. So many hours are lost this way, while gardening is easily the most healthy exercise in many ways in my opinion..

May i suggest a tool for muscle ache relief, rosemary balm. Easy to make. Rosemary in oil, let it sit, filter, add bee balm, voila. Overnight it will help painfull muscles by opening capillaries, and thereby increasing bloodstream, increasing oxygen levels and the drainage of accumulated waste. It don't think it will help with the arthritis itself, but having the muscle system around painful joints in the best condition will be good.
 
Anne Miller
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Carla, my crows foot cultivator was a gift over ten years ago so I don't know where it came from. The name brand is worn off. Here is where I got the image, it says etsy:  Source

Hugo, I am very interested in your rosemary balm.  Do you think it would help without the bee balm, as I don't have that?  I think I will try it to see if it will help. Rosemary makes a great mouthwash.

Something that I found out here on permies for pain:  100% Natural Magnesium Bath Flakes.  I mix them 50/50 with water in a spray bottle.  Spray it on then massage into the skin. So far for me this has help with my pain.
 
Anne Pratt
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Speaking of magnesium, I use Epsom salts in a bath and in a poultice with wonderful results. I also have a magnesium spray, which is also helpful. Though nothing beats an Epsom salt bath.
 
Hugo Morvan
pollinator
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Anne Miller. Yes it will work! I use ordinary sunflower oil, because it dissolves into the skin the fastest, but if you really want to rub it in olive oil is better. The bee balm is just to make it into a salve, i've had my oils drop on the floor too many times, so now i keep them in the cupboard and make salves.
Very easy, for anyone interested. Just 1 ounce beewax, to one cup oil. Melt the beewax slowly, add the oils, add more heat until it's all the same, poor it, cool it. If unhappy about the consistency just reheat and add beewax if you want it to become harder and oil if you want it to become more fluid.
 
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Anne Miller wrote:

Hugo, I am very interested in your rosemary balm.  Do you think it would help without the bee balm, as I don't have that?  I think I will try it to see if it will help.



You can make just the rosemary infused oil (macerate) and use that: put a lot of dried rosemary in a cold-pressed plant oil (and not refined one) - I usually fill a jar almost full of rosemary leaves, it's even better to press it with something hard bit by bit while filling the jar (point is to break down dried leaves, that way you get more essential oil into the plant oil), than add plant oil in it, you'll have to add it slowly and make sure all the air bubbles are out, put a lid on it and keep inside (not on the sun!!!) for about 4-6 weeks. Shake it or stir at least several times, few times per week would be best, but it's ok if you forget and do it just a few times. It's best to keep final product in a darker bottle (or jar), and it can last really long in a cool and dark place.

I'm applying it to sore muscles, joints, back, swollen legs and so on. Be aware that it can have a "waking up" effect so if you have trouble with sleep it's best not to use it in the evening.

For making a bee balm it doesn't matter much which plant oil you use, but if you're going to use rosemary macerate by itself, it is somewhat better if you use some of the more easily absorbed oils - sunflower (not the one for cooking!), almond, apricot kernel, to mention some. Since I'm from Mediterranean, we use olive oil here for everything, including herbal oils (macerates) and balms, and it works like a charm if you don't mind somewhat slower absorbtion of oil into your skin.

 
carla beemer
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I love all the tips for soothing salves and creams for pain relief, but I'd like to gently steer back toward the tool question.

I think the idea of lighter weight tools can have some merit. However, the more weight a tool has, the more 'work' it can do with less applied force. Moving/using a heavier tool is more often about body mechanics and body positioning than it is about raw strength. I think I am still looking for heavy-duty tools that can move a lot of dirt while digging swales and ditches, or chop through heavy stems...but with mechanical advantages that relieve stress on the joints.

I like the design of the Fokin hoe featured this week. It seems a good, solid weight, but with the various bends it looks like a person could move it through the soil with the hand held in whatever position is most comfortable. I think I might buy the medium-sized one and try out a forearm-length handle.

I don't usually by new tools, so this would be a departure for me.
 
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Carla
I like your idea  "I am thinking of making some of these semi-short handles, perhaps with a bit of a curve to match my forearm, and with a padded strap to transfer the digging force from my hand and wrist to the entire forearm."
I use a seed spreader that distributes the weight of the container up the forearm and can see how a handle with the padding braced up the arm could add more force.  My issue is leaning on the other wrist while working with the tool, I remind myself to make a fist to keep the wrist straight.  I could also use a tool that would get me up off my knees.....
 
pollinator
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I feel your pain...literallly I have arthritis, fibro and back trouble so it is hard getting any gardening done that doesn't hurt.  I wish I could tell you something about hoe but have not used it.  The one thing that has helped my hands
is to use ratchetting clippers. They make it so much easier to cut anything.  And they even make cutting bigger limbs easier. You don't have to use a lot of force to try and cut through it all at once.  I got a pair of ratcheting hand clippers at a garden show once and I was sold on them. Unfortunately I left them with a friend and have not seen them since, so can't tell you the name of those. But there are many on the market and also the bigger lopper ones as well.  Hope this helps.
 
carla beemer
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Lyda-yes, ratcheting tools are terrific! I received this ratcheting lopper with telescoping handles as a gift from hubby: it applies a lot of force with little work, and it allows me to cut large standing willow and cedar without bending. Dawn- this is a good lopper for cutting thick branches at ground level without having to bend or kneel. Expensive, though. Definitely a splurge! https://www.tigerjaw.com/product-page/ce-cedar-lopper-telescopic-twist-handle
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65yo solitary female gardener here. I know what you’re feeling!
These are the tools that help me most:

Horihori knife
Good quality cultivating fork!
Shuffle (Hula) hoe
Battery powered hedge trimmer, string trimmer, and chainsaw a I love my Makita
Sheet mulching
A bagger on my mower - no raking

Also, doing shorter but more numerous work sessions, changing up the activities to minimize repetitious movements.
Also very important to stop working BEFORE you feel pain and fatigue. Simple stretches before and after working helps a lot - hands especially.

Turmeric and CBD for inflammation.
 
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