InjuryJust PostedPainPrevention

THE REAL PAIN OF GARDENING: It’s not about the plants

Now that I’m retired and don’t see patients as a source of blogging material, I have to look elsewhere, or into my archives. I’m finding plenty of sources on Nextdoor, where neighbors are asking for doctor referrals and help with household needs. And this week a neighbor asked about finding  someone to help to pull weeds…

I hate weeds…and I love them. There’s something amazing about the strength and beauty of weeds. Would that we were that tough. Humans are more like orchids; hard and slow to grow. But weeds? Green in the middle of a drought. Blooming when it’s 105 degrees outside. They’re resilient to the toughest means of destruction, including the hoe, the poison and my strong, grabby fist!

Bottom line. I spend a lot of time trying to get rid of weeds and errant grasses. I’ve tried every kind of natural poison known to the internet. I admit to using things which come with warnings and childproofing. But like my patients, I use my back, knees, shoulders and hands. And like them, I’ve woken up in pain the next day.

But my patients take their gardening very seriously, and they work it like a sport. They pay for this hobby with back pain, sciatica, the beginning of knee arthritis, the scourge of “butt pain,” and an assortment of upper extremity disorders ranging from rotator cuff tears to tendinitis in their pinky finger!

How can we keep ourselves weeding and planting?

Of course…do what I do:

-Use any and every implement known to Home Depot and Amazon, including grub hoes, clippers, knives, scissors and those twisty weed pullers.

-Pull weeds/garden for short periods of time. I force myself to quit.

NEVER SQUAT! If you’ve kept up with my blog, you know I would counsel against squatting at all costs. As we age, sometimes one squat is enough to tear your weakening meniscus cartilage.

-If you’ve got a lot to do in one place, use a gardening stool.

-Better living through chemicals. I’ve tried the vinegar solution as well as Round Up. They work, and eliminate the need to bend, squat or pull. You might have to bend over to pick up the dead remains a few days later.

Happy gardening!


  1. carol tisdale

    Many thanks for continuing to watch out for us! I knew retirement was just going to give you one more beneficial perspective. I’m hoping you will let us hear from you for a long time to come – I truly do listen to your oh so practical words of wisdom. Love your positive attitude and caring spirit. Sounds like you are thoroughly enjoying much deserved respite – thanks again!!
    Carol in Westlake

    1. carol tisdale

      BTW… do you mind if I sometimes post your blog on my FB page? I’ve got lots of friends who could benefit from your writings.

    2. Barbara

      I made a commitment to continue to try to help people, even post retirement. It’s in my genes or something. I’m also going to try to keep up with the comments, and try to answer them to the best of my ability…without giving out specific medical advice!

      1. Mary Koffend

        Dr. Bergin,
        I was your patient for many years and hope you are enjoying retirement as much as I am. I am on a committee for the She Thrives conference that is hosted each fall by AGE of Central Texas. I would love to talk to you about being a panel member in the session “The Changes We Never Talk About: What ‘s Happening to my Body”. Several other committee members have been your patients and we all love your blog, preventive tips and SLAM. I think all women need to know more. Please email me with a time we could chat.

  2. Jimmie Johnson

    Do some research on Round Up and caution it’s use. We had a handy man pulling up an over grown outdoor climbing ivy who poured round up into the soil. It soaking downhill and within weeks two trees were dead. It is a potent poison that has damaged many human lungs. Research and maybe do a blog on getting pulling and digging being better health wise for you and other living things.

    1. Barbara

      I didn’t say I recommended it. I just said I’ve used it. Right now I’m using various concentrations of vinegar, to see what works. Frankly, I think we should get rid of grass and let the beautiful weeds take over.

    1. Barbara

      Massages are great, unless they hurt you. Not all massages are created equal. If I am cringing in pain while getting a massage, develop bruises or numbness after a massage, I don’t go back.

  3. Janis Fritsch

    Good to see your blog again! I hope you are enjoying your retirement! I just wanted to recommend to you The Weed Man! I have used them the past 2 years and they have made a huge difference in our yard! They do grub, weed and fertilizer and pre-emergent so overall 6-7 treatments over the year and a pretty good price! I have recommended them to over 10 family and friends all agree with me. They do flower beds as well but for an extra cost If you use my name as a referral i get $50 credit and the same applies to you when you refer someone. Sure has helped my back!

    1. Barbara

      I will check them out. Great idea! Good to hear from you! I’ll use your name when I call them. And please tell your friends and family to subscribe to my blog! It’s for their own good! No credit…haha! Take care!

  4. Terry

    Yes, to NO squatting! Husband suffered a terrible sciatica attack pulling weeds in the grass. Chiropractor showed him what to do instead.

    1. Barbara

      Thank you to his chiropractor for giving him alternatives. Straight leg raises, isometric quad setting exercises, walking, swimming, cycling. These are all better for the knees…and the back…over squatting. Hope your husband is on the mend.

  5. Mary Ellen Fine

    When you say Don’t squat do you mean not to do the standard exercise squats. The ones I do are not deep- more like sitting down on a chair. Are those ok!

    1. Barbara

      I like to compare squats to eating sugar. When the dentist or our primary care docs say, “no sugar,” we often say, “Doc, how about just a little chocolate?” Is your dentist going to try and discuss specifics of sugar: one piece of chocolate, two gummy bears…that’s okay. Nope. Just easier to say “no sugar.” So, that’s how it is with squats. I can’t tell you it’s okay to do a quarter squat, or just do five a day. You could be one of the hundred patients I have seen who blew out their knee with just one squat. Or the thousands I have seen who have been doing quarter squats for 6 months, and now have irreparable changes to the cartilage under their knee caps. I destroyed the cartilage under my knee cap by running stairs for exercise…three times! Common sense says that quarter squats would be better than deep squats. No additional weight would be better than doing a weighted squat. You have to decide what’s best for you, and “listen” to your knee. Be mindful. Pay attention to pain, swelling, popping, crunching and grinding of your two bones together. And that’s why it’s easier for me to say, “no squats.” Better you should have a piece of chocolate.

  6. sandra gorringe

    Just another thing to watch out for – trigger finger. i embarked on a project to remove alot of lawn weeds with deeep roots and ended up overusing the thumb & fourth finger on my right hand. as a result i developd trigger finger & have just had a steriod injection in my fourth finger to try to rectify it!

    1. Barbara

      Yes! Trigger finger! What a strange disorder. I had one patient on whom I ultimately did trigger finger surgeries on 9 of her 10 fingers…all at different times!
      The time to catch trigger finger is the day it starts! It would be then that I would wrap a little tape around the middle knuckle of my finger, to stiffen it up a bit, and then take some OTC anti-inflammatories (if I had no contraindications to taking them). I would rest the hell out of it, and stop pulling weeds for a while.

      I would also stop testing it. All my patients like to repeatedly bend and straighten their trigger finger, just to check it out. Of course, that just irritates it! Good news is that the surgery for it works great and is almost painless. It can be done under a local anesthetic, so patients can drive themselves to the surgery center and home again afterwards!

  7. Sandy

    I’ve been a gardener all my life. My grandparents had a greenhouse so I learned to love plants early on. Through my 72 years I’ve overdone it many times. Lifting & hauling & raking & weeding. I now have thumb arthritis, great toe arthritis & knee arthritis after a meniscus tear & surgery. I ache at times. Weather causes bouts, but there’s nothing like being outdoors on my acre with deer, bunnies, birds, the wind & sun & my sweet old cat. I have a roadrunner that passes through & a toad, lizard & several frogs.
    So for now I rely on ice, heat, massage, Voltaren, & trusty ibuprofen when all else fails. I’m bone on bone in all 3 joints so I get Euflexxa injections yearly in my knee & an occasional steroid shot in my thumb. The toe is a challenge now so will be researching what is available & proven besides fusion. I’m short so I need to be able to reach up.
    Gardening is my passion & I’ll be out playing in the dirt until I die. Pain is a part of aging but it isn’t everything. It’s learning how to pace yourself so it’s enjoyable. Quality over quantity is my motto now.

  8. Patti

    Thank you for your blog. Best way to get up off of the ground so that you don’t hurt knees? This is always my challenge. Thanks

    1. Barbara

      There is no easy way to get up off the ground. It’s always best to have help, either in the form of an assistant, or “human crutch,” who can help pull you up, or some kind of device, such as a bench, chair, wheelbarrow, or scarecrow. Even a tall tool to use as a “mechanical crutch,” is better than nothing. Last but not least, to avoid a full squat, first get to a knee, then bend over and use your arms to help.

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