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Gardening With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How to Survive Yard Work


Updated April 18, 2012

Yard work: it involves bending, lifting, digging, kneeling, exposure to the elements, allergens, etc. Even the heartiest of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are likely to drop of exhaustion before long!

I'm not a serious gardener, but I do want my yard to look nice. Spring is usually my healthiest time of year – which certainly helps – so I've taken on a major project (or at least, what I consider a major project) just about every year.

I've had some good days in the garden and plenty of bad ones, too. They've all taught me what can help ease the strain of it and keep me from sending myself into a flare every time I head out.

The Right Tools

The right tools can make the difference between creating beauty and throwing in the towel. My essentials are:

  • Good, sturdy hand tools. Flimsy ones aren't strong enough to make up for any lack of strength you have. Tougher ones will do a lot more work for you.
  • A thick kneeling pad. Whether I'm kneeling or sitting, having a pad keeps me a lot more comfortable.
  • A garden caddy that I can pull around the yard. It holds all of my tools with space left for plants, and it's also got a cup holder. It saves me uncountable numbers of trips.
  • Thick gloves. They protect my hands from scrapes and scratches, which is especially important if you have allergies to plants (like I do!)
  • A sun visor. I have light-sensitive eyes and find the visor helps whether or not I'm wearing sunglasses. My forehead tends to sweat excessively and the visor keeps it from running into my eyes. On hot days, a visor is noticeably cooler than a cap.

Managing Your Symptoms

Listen to your body. Be realistic about whether you can handle gardening on a given day, and if so, how much you can do without exacerbating your symptoms.

Think about what medication you'd take for post-gardening aches and pains and consider whether taking them preemptively might be better than waiting until you're hurting. Be sure you're not taking something that could hamper your dexterity, though. You don't want to be clumsy while handling sharp tools!

If you have temperature sensitivities, you'll want to plan your gardening for times when it's not too hot or too cold for you to work comfortably. During hotter months, mornings and evenings may be best. Try to take advantage of the sun's movement by working areas that are shaded. The opposite strategy can help keep you warm during cooler times.

It sounds obvious to say "stay hydrated," but it's worth saying no matter how often you've heard it before. The consequences of dehydration and heat stroke can be serious, and if your body has trouble cooling itself down, you may be at higher risk.

Remember to keep emergency medical supplies you may need – such as an asthma inhaler or epi pen –close at hand. It's also a good idea to keep your cell phone with you in case you need help.

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

Learning to pace yourself properly can help you get a lot more done with fewer consequences, in the garden and in just about every area of life.

Many of us do best when working in short bursts with rest in between. When I'm doing lighter gardening, I can usually do between 20 and 30 minutes of work, rest for 10 minutes, then jump back in. For more strenuous jobs, it's 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off.

You may need to experiment to find the pacing schedule that works best for you. It may seem like the frequent breaks will make the job take longer, but you may find that it actually enables you to be more productive.

Pacing can be tough to learn. We have a tendency to work until we crash, in an effort to get things done while we can. This article can help:

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