It’s estimated that around 80% of the adult population in the UK suffers from back pain at some stage of life. Statistically, they are more likely to be over 50 years of age, but it can affect anyone at any time.
This means that thousands of keen (and some not-so-keen!) gardeners will have to cope with a painful back while trying to keep their gardens in good shape. Thankfully, in most cases, the pain will be temporary, but it still may last for weeks or months, and it could return in the future. Sadly, there are also people who have no choice but to put up with long-term pain.
Whatever your situation, if back pain is an issue for you, I’ve sought out some of the best tools to help you out. So, take a look at my list of gardening tools for bad backs – hopefully, you’ll find one or two that will make life easier and less painful, and maybe bring some of the joy back into gardening.
Spades & Forks
The key here is to find a tool that suits your height. Although we vary widely in bodily measurements, manufacturers have, until fairly recently, stuck to producing garden tools based on an average height from around Victorian times!
Fortunately, some of the best brands are now catering for gardeners of all different sizes, meaning that there’s less bending involved and that you can find tools designed to suit you.
Here are a few examples:
This lightweight tool only weighs a little over 2kg! That means there’s less stress and strain on your back muscles. The ergonomic soft-grip handle is a bonus and the extra length – 103 cm – makes this an ideal fork for avoiding bending while you dig.
The D-shaped easy grip makes this a comfortable tool to use, while the sharp stainless steel tines are great for turning soft soil and aerating lawns. The lightweight aluminium shaft allowed the manufacturers to produce a fork weighing only 1.25kg! The extra-long handle measures 113cm, easing the strain on your knees and back.
Now, this is one amazing option for a gardener with a bad back! It has been specifically designed to make gardening easier, and this is obvious from the moment you start using it. Be warned, though – it looks a bit ‘space age’, nothing like your usual garden fork.
However, it is one of the best ergonomic tools I have tried, starting with the extra-large AIR light handle and dual grip that offers more control, to the lightweight fibreglass shaft (1.6 kg in total). The unique wedge-shaped central tines and angled soil–chopping blades are ingenious! They really make gardening tasks a whole lot easier, helping you to avoid excessive bending.
It’s not overly long (102cm) but is definitely worth considering for those who need to reduce strain on their back.
With its sharpened blade and extra-wide handle, this spade is a joy to use, slicing through soil and turf with ease. The combination of tough fibreglass and robust alloy steel makes this tool feel super-strong but lightweight (around 1kg) and its longer length of 119.4cm makes it easy to use without bending too much.
Another excellent tool from Fiskars, this time with a pointed EaseCut blade that carves through grass and roots with no problem. The long handle (total tool length 120cm) helps you stand taller and the large handle is comfortable, allowing two-handed use.
Made from steel and reinforced fibreglass, it weighs around 2kg and feels strong and robust.
I included this one even though it’s about average length (96cm long), mainly because not everyone is tall! Also, this is one of those ergonomic tools designed to make the job of digging borders much easier and help you avoid getting a bad back.
The polypropylene shaft and polished stainless steel blade are tough and resilient, and the whole thing weighs slightly under 1.5kg, making it light enough to use for long periods. Also, the blade is angled to make the job easier, which is handy.
Like me, many gardeners prefer eco-friendly methods of controlling weeds. However, pulling weeds by hand can be back-breaking work!
Happily, there are several tools that do all the work for you while you remain in a comfortable standing position.
This handy gadget is built out of lightweight aluminium and fibreglass, weighing only 950g. It’s cleverly designed with three stainless steel claws that plunge up to 10cm into the ground to grab weeds by the root. With a little effort, you can use the footrest to push the blades in, then lever the pole backwards to pull out the whole weed intact.
Fiskars has thoughtfully fitted an easy-to-use mechanism halfway down the shaft that operates with a simple sliding action to open the claws and dispose of the weed. The whole tool measures a metre in length, so it’s ideal for most gardeners.
This one works in a similar way to the previous tool, although it has a few extra features. To begin with, it has four claws instead of three. It’s about the same length as the Fiskars tool and only weighs 1.07kg.
It also has an excellent ergonomic design, with double soft grip handles for easier use. You simply push the 11cm blades into the ground and twist the tool around, then lift away the weed.
A sprung button on the top of the pole lets you drop the weeds into the wheelbarrow with one simple movement. All in all, a lovely item that avoids you from having to bend to do the task of weeding, reducing the risk of back pain.
For a bit of extra power when cleaning weeds and moss from between patio slabs and block paving, this is a lifesaver. Gone are the days of raking up moss with a brush or blade while on bended knees! Simply plug this beauty in and it does all the hard work for you as it glides along easily on a single wheel. There are four different-sized interchangeable brushes, so it’s suitable for most gaps. The whole thing only weighs around 3kg, so it doesn’t strain your back or any other parts of the body.
A transparent safety cover over the brush stops debris from being launched into your face, while the 140w motor is powerful enough to get the job done.
A decent wheelbarrow is a gardener’s best friend, making it easier to transport garden waste, soil and equipment from one place to another without having to carry it all.
Even so, they can often be bulky and heavy, making it hard work to move even when it’s only half-filled!
This is an amazing find! The body is made from strong UV-resistant canvas with industrial-strength seams, making it collapsible. This means that it will lay flat on the ground, so you don’t need to keep raising a fork or spade to dump the garden waste. Instead, you can scrape, slide or shovel the waste in easily at ground level.
This tough and durable wheelbarrow will take a load of up to 350lb (158 kg), although you might want to avoid filling it to capacity if you have a bad back! The heavy-gauge steel frame is robust, while the foam handles make it comfortable to use. The chunky pneumatic wheel lets you glide along effortlessly to move your load with ease.
The name says it all! This company specifically designs garden tools for people with bad backs, and their wheelbarrows are ideal.
Sporting three wheels rather than just the one, this ingenious gadget is designed with an easy-to-use mechanism operated by foot that tips the bucket with very little effort. It’s very sturdy and stable and won’t tip over easily. There’s no strain on your shoulders or back, and it’s easy to manoeuvre.
The 90-litre bucket can hold a maximum of 75kg, and the pan is galvanised to protect it from rust.
Seats & Kneelers
Bending or crouching can cause real problems for back pain sufferers! If possible, it’s best to sit or kneel for certain garden jobs.
This sturdy garden kneeler has a double-sided pad, one side to be used as a seat and the other for kneeling. The seat is made of moulded plastic, while the other side is foam, so it’s kinder to your knees.
The tubular iron frame can be folded down for easy storage, and it is robust enough to take weights of up to 125 kg. The kneeler itself only weighs 3kg, so can be easily carried around to where it’s needed.
This kneeler offers the same benefits as the Draper example but has three side pockets for small gardening tools. The pouch is detachable so it can be used whether you are sitting or kneeling. It also has a foam pad on either side of the seat/kneeler for extra comfort.
It is also made of tubular steel although it has a lower weight limit of 108kg, but this is still well above the weight of the average adult.
We all know how back-breaking it can be to lift a watering can, which is why so many of us prefer hoses. Still, even this can cause problems when you’re trying to reach hanging baskets.
This is where a hose wand is an excellent idea!
There are dozens to consider, but this is the one that took my fancy as it is reasonably priced and works a treat.
Robust, frost-proof and easy to adjust, this hose wand is perfect for the job, meaning that you don’t have to reach or stretch and aggravate your back pain. The item itself weighs less than half a kilogram, although you need to take into account the weight of your hose (a lightweight nylon hose would be ideal).
The hose wand head has three settings: soft shower, spray and piercing jet (avoid using the last one on your plants!).
Plant caddies or dollies are brilliant if you have large potted plants on a flat surface, like a patio or decking. These pots can be pretty hefty and will need moving at some point, like when it’s time to clean the patio. You can also help your plants get the best of the sunshine by rolling them out of the shade (or into the shade if they are sensitive!). They might also be handy for other jobs, say, moving a heavy bag of soil or compost.
Obviously, people with bad backs need to avoid heavy lifting as much as possible, so a plant dolly is great as it will allow you to roll the pot along fairly easily. There are plenty out there to choose from, but here are a couple of examples that caught my eye.
This four-wheeled dolly is made from powder-coated steel to make it rust-resistant. It has a weight limit of up to 40kg and the 360º wheels allow you to turn and move it in any direction with ease.
While the first example is practical, for me it lacks the charm of the Esschert with its cast iron art nouveau design. In fact, it’s pretty enough to be used all the time rather than having to lift the heavy pot onto it when it’s time to clean the patio.
This weatherproof heavy-duty caddy looks great and will keep the patio or decking clean, and when it’s time to move the plant you can simply roll it away!
Tips For Reducing Back Pain
Ironically, countless bad backs are probably caused by gardening in the first place! This is usually due to poor posture and unhelpful habits – but don’t worry, you’re by no means alone in this, as all of us are guilty of this at some time or another!
Whether or not your gardening adventures are responsible for your back pain, there are ways to help ease the problem other than using special tools. Here are some handy tips to remember:
Warm Up Beforehand!
It sounds extreme, but it really works. Just like athletes warm up their muscles, it’s a good idea to do some simple stretches and get the muscles working before tackling the garden.
Check Out Some Safe Lifting Techniques
Visit the NHS or HSE websites for guidance on lifting heavy objects safely. While most of us might scoff at this advice, anyone who has put their back out by lifting something incorrectly knows that this is no joke!
Take Regular Breaks
We all overdo it at times. Once you get into it, it’s easy to forget the time. If necessary, set a timer and make sure you work in short bursts rather than go for hours without a rest.
Used A Raised Garden Bed
A great solution for those with a green thumb who have accessibility or mobility issues! Raised beds and raised planters make it easier to reach the soil and plants without bending forward all the time.
Use The Right Tools!
Always use the right gardening tools for your height. It might take some searching, but it’s worth it if you have back problems. Longer tools that you use while standing up straight will help you to avoid bending unnecessarily if you are taller than average, while shorter tools are better for those of smaller stature. Extra-short garden tools are great for when you are in a seated position or working on raised garden beds.
Take Care Of Your Back
I hope that my list of gardening tools for bad backs has given you food for thought and helps you to get the most out of gardening without the agony of back pain. Most back problems are temporary, and many can be avoided with a bit of planning and forethought. You can also check out our post about Arthritis garden tools.
So, feel free to use this as a guide and take on board some of the tips to help you enjoy your garden maintenance while looking after your back!