This year more than most, people are spending more time tending to their flower beds, gardens, and other home renovation projects (thanks COVID-19 for the home improvements!). While home improvement is a cherished occupation for some, it comes with its own set of risks to be aware of.
Upper extremity outdoor home injuries can be due to falls resulting in fracture or dislocations, puncture wounds from plants or tools, heat and sun-related illness and even insect or animal bites. Aside from injuries involving the skin, repetitive use injuries are also common with outside household management tasks. More severe gardening-related injuries can result in tendon or joint injuries that could require surgery.
With no protection, the sun can begin to damage a person’s skin in as little as 15 minutes. According to the CDC, women are more likely to wear sunscreen while men are more likely to wear protective clothing to prevent sun burn and UV ray penetration.
Did you know that your scar may require additional care when you go outside? Scars are more likely to sustain a sunburn, as compared to surrounding skin. To minimize scar appearance, a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 should be applied to your scar frequently during time spent outside. This routine can even be continued for up to 18 months after surgery. The skin care line Mederma has developed a scar care formula with a SPF component included that protects from further, more problematic scarring.
Seattle Children’s Hospital has a few great tips on scar care related to sun burns:
- Put sunscreen on 20 to 30 minutes before going outside.
- Reapply it at least every 2 hours, and after being in the water or sweating heavily.
- Use sun protection even on cloudy days, as clouds and smog do not fully block UVA and UVB light.
- Be careful when near sand, water, snow, and cement because they reflect the sun’s rays and increase your sun exposure.
- Scars should be carefully protected from the sun for at least 1 year after surgery or injury. Sun exposure can darken scars permanently, making them more noticeable.
- Look for an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number on the label. Choose a sunscreen with a SPF of 30 to 50.
Allergies and other Environmental Factors
The American Association of Dermatology shares a few tips on preventing gardening rashes, allergic reactions and skin irritations:
Cover up. When working with plants, everything from the plant’s sap to its thorns or spines can injure your skin. Touching certain plants can cause an allergic skin reaction. The best way to protect yourself is to cover your skin. When working with plants, dermatologists recommend wearing:
- Shirt with long sleeves
- Shoes that cover your feet, such as running shoes
Dermatologists also recommend wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses while outdoors. This helps to protect you from the sun.
Take precautions to avoid bug bites. You can prevent many injuries and illnesses due to bugs by:
- Spraying insect repellent with DEET on your clothing once you’re outdoors
- Avoiding gardening and yardwork during dawn and dusk, which is when bugs are most active
- Flicking a bug off rather than killing it, which can prevent the bug from biting or stinging
- Checking your skin from head to toe for ticks when you finish gardening, being sure to check the skin between your toes, hairline, and underarms
Safety Tips and Tricks
Wear gloves – Gardening or other safety gloves help prevent bites and cuts, reducing your risk for potential infection.
Keep your arms covered – In addition to hand coverings, long sleeves can protect your arms and forearms from the sun, bush dwelling critters, and other skin irritants.
Pacing – Once you decide to tackle that outside project that you have been putting off for months, it is important to break down tasks into smaller components to avoid overuse of tissues. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to stay hydrated and reapply sunscreen! The American Society of Hand Therapists recommends taking a break once every hour or to switch between tasks regularly.
Use Those Tools! - Equipment such as gardening forks, pruning shears, trowels, wheelbarrows, and watering cans can help save time when completing a project, as well as preserve tissue health. Additionally, it is important to properly store your tools to avoid rust build up (which can make you work harder to use equipment at a later date) and prevent other injury (like stepping on or tripping over left out equipment).
Wide Handled Tools – Whether it be in the kitchen or out in the yard, wide handled tool handles help preserve the many, small joints in one’s hand. There are many equipment modification techniques that can modify your current tool set, instead of having to buy all new equipment. Do not forget to ask your trusty Hand Therapist at Ascend Hand Therapy for help or advice when modifying home equipment!
Plan Ahead! - This is a time and body saver! Try to do the most strenuous tasks when you are freshest and during the coolest times of the day.
Examples of Ergonomic and Other Safety Equipment