How to Garden When You’ve Got Back or Knee Problems

Marjory works with 60-something Bonnie Grace Rising to help her garden. Bonnie, like a lot of folks, has some back and knee problems. We discuss how to grow food, tools to use, and other helpful tips.

(This post was originally published on January 24, 2013.)

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This post was written by Marjory Wildcraft


  • Vanessa says:

    Another aid for garderners who have a challenge with their hands isto get some vet wrap, the colorful “ace” type bandages. Wrap the handle with several layers where you hold it…It acts as a cushion as well as non slip.

    1. Vanessa says:

      orry for the typos, I do have the hand problems.

    2. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Nice tip, thanks Vanessa.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Back bends are very helpful to do througout the day as we get older. Gardeners bend over so many times daily, that bending backwards is crucial to alleviate the stress to the lower back. My herniated disc in my lower back completely healed just by staying active, but I added back bends at the advice of a physical therapist. Loved the video. Long handled tools would be terrific!

  • Joyce Johnson says:

    I plan to get a wheelbarrow with big fat wheels to put all my stuff in and save trips to get something forgotten and bring heavy bags from the van to the garden.

  • savedseoul says:

    The link for video does not work. When I click on it, it just shows title of video but no video shows up to play. I could really use this information. Please help. Thank you.

  • g.clark435 says:

    Can you make this video into a PDF please ,so I can read ? My phone won’t play videos.

  • myhawaiianfarm says:

    Where is the video?

  • B. L. Corley says:

    Video does not play.

    1. B. L. Corley says:

      Or rather it is missing.

  • Anya says:

    Yup, video is missing. Seniors definitely want to garden easier! Matjory, HELP!!!

  • Liz Lindsey says:

    Does anyone have a solution if you cannot kneel down on your knees? I have to always bend over and not able to kneel, even with knee pads – thanks!

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Hi Liz,

      My knees have started to ‘act up’ lately and I went to a posture coach. He has me doing these knee circles and it has helped a lot. He has more for me to do after I get this going… But here is a youtube video on how to do knee circles which is a gentle way to begin to restore your knees. . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3GeFyXlOwI
      Can you do these?

      1. jossycat says:

        I will surely try this and thank you for the link.

      2. wtij says:

        Hi Marjorie, you mentioned in the video about getting the knee pads, seat w handles and would do an update. Do you the name of this, have a link? 63 and boy that would help!! Thank you. Jane

    2. sandpj says:

      Yes, its so important to listen to our bodies as they age…..I know I get so excited to be working in my gardens every Spring, that I spend hours working on my raised beds…..then can’t do anything the next day or two 🙁 Learning to pace myself…hopefully! Also, I use a shower stool so I can sit and weed, I can’t kneel either, so this is a good solution for me

  • littlefranklittle says:

    My solution has been to garden almost entirely in plastic planters, so I can always sit in a chair or wheelchair to do it – that solves all the reaching/kneeling problems! It also means I can get someone to move them around the yard for me to make the most of limited sunshine (small urban yard in the UK, partly overshadowed by a neighbour’s large tree). For many people, small raised beds can make a huge difference.

  • Deborah Dailey says:

    I am going on 66, and have lower back problems, due to too much heavy lifting in my teens and twenties. Long handled tools seem to increase the strain on my back, so I tend to do a lot of gardening with short tools, while sitting or kneeling on the ground, rather than bending and reaching from a standing position. At the moment, I am also nursing a pulled tendon in one of my knees, which makes it very difficult to go between standing, sitting, and kneeling—not something I wanted to deal with as the gardening season is finally getting into gear. The knee circle exercise looks great, not only for the knees, but also for loosening up the lower back. I look forward to trying it as soon as this latest injury heals. Thanks!

  • herbantherapy says:

    I garden in tall raised beds made from rain barrels turned sideways up on a frame, I don’t have to bend at all. I also use a 5 gallon bucket with a seat to carry my tools and I can sit on it to weed or prune without kneeling. There are also handle adapters you can buy to add/snap on your regular long tool handles for ergonomic gardening. Also keyhole gardening is super helpful in filling up a waist high raised bed for less money in materials.

  • caylac says:

    The back bends do help. I have AS and have been a serious physical laborer my entire life, along with being a serious gardener. I’ve been on my knees probably more than most people that go to church regularly. Now I work in a Neighborhood Market produce section, so the suffering continues. Throughout the day, I straighten myself up and bend way back a few times. It’s something to be mindful about.

  • caylac says:

    To Liz about not being able to kneel. Like Bonnie said in the video, she wants to try one of those “tools” that you set on the ground and it’s a seat, not too high. If you turn it over, it becomes a kneeler with handles on each side to help you get up. I try to always use one of 2×2 thick cushioned floor tiles that connect together. I’m also quite adept at spreading my legs far apart and doing very deep squats. It’s way better than kneeling and keeps your legs strong.

  • Marjory Wildcraft says:

    Hi Caylac, wow doing squats while gardening? Th’ats a great idea, but whew, it takes some awesome leg strength. Hmm, I’ve got a huge patch of weeds to get to and I am going to try it.
    I’ve been thinking about a fun gardening workout routine – this could be part of that.

  • JeanneDeSilver says:

    It’s called a Chinese Squat; this video demonstrates and explains the benefits of it: https://youtu.be/81QpY0IYDJ4

    1. jossycat says:

      Thank you very much for the link.

  • coach.janet.bolton says:

    Most of my back is fused (I can still turn my head and bend forward, but no back bends) and I deal with degenerated discs and arthritis. What works for me are garden towers (mine are from the Garden Tower Project). I can get 50 plants in 4 sq ft of space. There is a center tube to compost and raise red Wiggler’s with a pull out drawer at the bottom to catch worm compost. They turn very easily, so I can sit on a stool to plant and harvest. The top is open for easy access. The design allows for more efficient watering, great during droughts. The towers are lightweight and easy to set up. I don’t ever need to squat, reach or bend over. Every year they have a contest to win a tower. Each year I enter. I haven’t won a tower, but I get a $100 gift certificate toward a new tower as a 2nd prize. I recommend the garden tower to anyone who has limitations or just limited space.

  • Bonnie says:

    Use a broadfork for turning the earth. If I am going to have a long garden day I use a posture vest for support. A good supportive shoe and not those garden rubber things. A good wheelbarrow. Trellis a lot of plants .

  • lizzzrd says:

    I love my combo kneeler bench and noticed that, for those who need more help, Gardener’s Supply now has one that uses gas cylinders to give an assist when getting in or out of a kneeling position. As I age, I find it helps to plan two or three different gardening chores for each day that don’t stress the same parts of the body. By alternating back and forth between the different chores, I avoid spend too much time stressing a particular joint or muscle and it really helps! I also recommend having multiple places to sit down in your property. Sometimes ten or twenty minutes listening to bird song makes all the difference in how our older bodies feel.

  • jossycat says:

    I have been gardening in big pots where I have composted kitchen scraps and fall leaves, also shredded paper. Then I add soil up to the brim and top it with a bottomless pot filled with a soil and compost mix. I have fibromyalgia and now able to garden standing up. I run out of pots so I bought plastic bins and did the same. After the season is over, I will harvest the composted material for next year’s bin garden. I garden organically and lost 4 lbs. in 2 weeks eating my greens.

  • jossycat says:

    I will surely try this and thank you for the link.

  • secrets1955 says:

    Wow! Love the tips and videos. I have MS, along with a herniated disc in my lower back….then there is the diabetes. I’m determined to get my garden growing THIS year. I also want to start planting herbs.

  • sandpj says:

    I’ve had several surgeries on my leg (motorcycle accident 30 years ago, the gift that keeps on giving) and have a shower stool which I used after the surgeries. I no longer need it for the shower so I started using it a couple years ago in my garden. I can sit and weed much easier!

  • Jerilyn says:

    I use old damaged stock tanks that I purchased at farm auctions for very little money.

  • tracygoodale says:

    I have had a couple of heart attacks and a host of other issues that requires me to garden as follows.
    Any broad padded bench that (when placing your chest on it) allows you to reach out in a 3 ft radius of your sternum, gives you the option to:
    1. Weed, hoe, plant, dig, and any other task you would normally do kneeling , except there is drastically reduced pressure on your lower back, hips, and (if wearing the old fashion foam knee pads) very little pressure on the knees.
    2. The bench, with a chest style handle mounted upright on each end, provides a sturdy support structure for coming to a standing/sitting position.
    3. When frame is constructed of Aluminum or other lightweight material, it will allow the incorporation of a small tool pouch on each end. I use one for hand trowel, 3-fingered rake, weed digger, and pruning shears. The other side is for a bottle of water and my cell phone. (Emergency contact on speed dial)
    Caution. It does take a bit of trial and error to get the optimum size and desity of foam pad for the bench surface. I have found a “My Pillow” works great and is held in place by velcro so I can easily remove it and lander.
    Other uses of The Bench.
    While gardening, take frequent breaks to do a few modified push-ups using the handles, stretch your legs out straight occasionally with your arms folded under your armpits. This allows longer stretches of the hamstrings, phalanges, and heel chords while your arms are holding your chest off of the pillow. When comfortable with your balance, from your gardening position, try rolling over onto the outside of your shoulder, legs out straight and perform some outside leg-lifts. Change shoulders and work your other outside leg. Once you have completed a few of these exercises, resuming your original gardening position suddenly becomes much more tolerable and actually may give you more relaxed gardening tasks.
    Keep those toes pointed.

  • Connie says:

    I too have bad knees, and my back also doesn’t quite like to do what want all the time. I live in Northern British Columbis, Canada, up near the Yukon border. In recent years our yard has become very wet with increased snow and melt and our weather has become a bit cooler as well. I have turned to raised beds, with the cost of lumber skyrocketing, I had to get inventive. I was recently at our local dump and noticed a few children’s sized pools. I thought, hey, this might work. I took them home, drilled a few holes in the bottoms and set them on pallets. Filled with fairly decent soil and seeded. I got a huge crop of onions last year that lasted all winter, garlic as well as beets on one small kiddee pool 4 ft across with access on all 4 sides, I got 14 quarts of pickled beets. It’s a great alternative.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      So inspiring Connie! Thanks for sharing. Yup. love that can do attitude.

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