Gardening after a total hip or knee replacement

Having a new hip or knee doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your garden.

We are a nation of keen gardeners. As well as creating beautiful environments for our home, and growing fruit and veg to maintain a good diet, research has also shown that being active outdoors in the garden is good for general mental and physical health too:

Protect

Initial tissue healing takes up to three months after surgery so physical activity during this time period is limited to range of motion, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises as advised by your physiotherapist. The range of motion is typically limited to 90 degrees of hip flexion for the first 90 days while tissues are repairing themselves. The maximum potential of the joint and complete healing following a total hip replacement or knee replacement is achieved between one and two years after your operation.

Strengthen your Muscles

Usually strengthening exercises should begin eight weeks after surgery, and, it is always better to consult your physiotherapist before you start. These exercises develop strength in your muscles which in turn reduces the load on the joint, and prepares you for advanced activities like gardening and so on. By three months after your operation, strength and flexibility will have improved to a point where most patients are able to walk fairly comfortably without an assistive device, get in/out of chairs easily, and drive easily.

Kneeling

Patients who have had a total knee replacement are only allowed to kneel after six months, on the proviso they are comfortable. Kneeling may never be completely comfortable but should become easier as the knee regains maximum potential. After a hip replacement many patients can kneel down after completing the precautionary period of three months. The safe way to do this is to perform a single-legged kneel whereby the patient kneels on the knee of the operated side only. This means that the other hip has to bend whilst the operated hip stays extended. The reverse is true after a knee replacement as it may be too painful to kneel on the operated side whereas a single-leg kneel is possible on the opposite side.

Gardening

Resumption of gardening tasks such as shovelling, walking over uneven surfaces, and squatting/bending to the ground will vary from individual to individual depending upon level of strength prior to surgery, level of health, and length of healing time since surgery. Typically, most individuals can begin attempting gardening tasks between three and six months.

Gardening Tools and Assisted Devices

Returning to your garden and flower beds can be assisted with adaptive equipment. A planter’s stool or reacher can enhance your ability to get to the ground when strength and range of motion are limited. Use special knee mats or knee pads for the work involving kneeling which will reduce the strain on the joint.

A cane can improve your balance walking across the yard or through the garden. In addition, modifying body mechanics can reduce the workload on your new joint – so, when carrying heavy loads such as plants and potting soil, keep them close to your body. Use the ‘unoperated’ leg to apply pressure on a spade or shovel to reduce the stress on the operated side.

Always seek the advice of an expert professional on how to get up/down from the ground and bend safely from the hips to assist with weeding and planting.

Reasonable health, motivation, paying attention to body signs (listen to your hip or knee) and time will allow returning to gardening in a relatively shorter period following total hip or knee replacement surgery.

Don’ts

  • Avoid spending hours stooping over flowerbeds to weed and plant
  • Don’t be in one position for a long time as it puts a strain on your whole body. It is good to keep changing your position or do other work, which involves a change of position. Also, have a short break while working for hours in the garden.
  • Do not use tools which are heavy to handle – buy tools which suit your needs and capabilities.
  • Last but not least, carry a communication device (mobile phone or pendant alarm if you live alone) and stay hydrated while working in the garden.