Every year, I look forward to setting up our garden. Store-bought just never tastes as good as homegrown! We’ve always tried to be smart about our gardening choices. To avoid battling the tree roots that are rampant in our yard, we use raised beds and container gardening. We time our first planting after the last predicted frost and experiment with using pest-fighting flowers and plants so that we don’t have to use pesticides.
This year, I need to be smart about gardening with Tietze syndrome. A condition similar to costochondritis, Tietze syndrome causes inflammation and pain in my ribs that make some physical tasks painful, if not flat out impossible. That means I need to get creative if I want my garden to grow. Fortunately, after almost a year of dealing with this challenge, I’ve got some ideas.
Get help for the heavy lifting
Lifting too much never fails to aggravate my chest. I’ve learned to buy smaller sizes or divide a big load into multiple small ones. But, sometimes there’s no way to breakdown a task. For example, we always stir compost and humus into our raised garden beds with a shovel. It’s a task I simply can’t manage safely right now, so I’m getting some help. Fortunately, my husband is willing to step in and lend a hand with things like this.
I may not be able to manage a full-sized shovel, but I can still tackle plenty of tasks as long as I think small. This article from the USDA uses pictures to explain that a weight farther from the body puts more stress on your back and torso than an identical weight kept close to your body. Putting that principle into practice, I’ve traded in my regular, long-handled gardening tools for handheld versions. The shorter handles remind me to work closer to my torso and the smaller surface areas mean I don’t have to push or pull as much to get something accomplished. It takes longer, but at least I’m still able to function when I’m done.
Say goodbye to vibrations
Vibration has been one of my worst enemies since being diagnosed with Tietze syndrome. Long car rides, sputtering lawn mowers and anything else that shudders and shakes make my ribs ache. I intend to limit my use of power tools this summer, but despite my pushmower’s jerky dance moves, I am going to cut my grass. I’ve wrapped pipe insulation around the handle to quiet down the vibration. (Only do this if it doesn’t interfere with safety features and steering.) I’ve also borrowed a pair of anti-vibration gloves. Designed to protect people whose jobs require regular power tool use from vibration syndrome, a condition where repeated exposure to vibration causes pain, numbness and blanching in the hands, these gloves absorb some of the vibration energy, preventing it from reaching their wearer. I don’t use enough power tools to be at risk for vibration syndrome. For me, it’s simply that feeling less vibration means feeling less pain.
Avoid the long haul
I’m used to carrying a big, heavy watering can in each hand and working my way around the various plantings in my yard. This year, I’m avoiding that long haul with the help of a garden cart. I still get my watering done, but I’m lifting less weight, less often.
Since being diagnosed with Tietze syndrome, I’ve had to learn new ways to accomplish familiar tasks. There are certain, specific things I can’t do without a whole lot of pain. But, with a little forethought and ingenuity, I can still participate in most of the activities I enjoy. I just make sure I keep my soothing heating pad handy in case I overdo it.
If you think you may have Tietze syndrome, see your doctor immediately. Chest pain is too risky to ignore. If you’d like more information on Tietze syndrome, click here.