Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ergonomic tools aim to ease gardeners' pains

Selecting ergonomic garden tools ...

"Gardeners with painful disabilities should have an easier row to hoe.

Nearly one in five U.S. adults -- some 46 million people -- has arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So it's not surprising that scores of ergonomic toolmakers target this sizable group.

Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association, said most gardeners are older than 55, and "looking for garden tools that are easier to use and help prevent aches and pain."

A great many garden tools are marketed with the word "ergonomic" in bold type on the labels, meaning they're intended to maximize the efficiency and quality of someone's work.

But claims are one thing and performance is quite another, said Bob Denman, a blacksmith, tool designer and consultant in Boring, Ore.

"Some garden tools are being developed without a great deal of study," Denman said. "The manufacturer builds in a bend here and incorporates a twist there and calls it ergonomic. But then other tools are extremely well thought out."

There are several factors to consider in choosing a proper tool.

First, it's important to know that grip strength declines an average of 15 percent by a person's early 50s, said Jeffrey Hoyle, an ergonomist with The Ergonomics Center of North Carolina, a research and consulting arm of North Carolina State University.

And while women are about two-thirds as strong as men in general, studies indicate that their grip strength is about half that of men.

It might seem logical, then, to focus on the tool's grip. But weight and power are what make a tool truly ergonomic, said Olavi Linden, chief designer for Finland-based Fiskars Garden & Outdoor Living.

"Handles are actually a very small part of the equation," Linden said. "More power is what helps you avoid tendinitis. Extra-long, lightweight handles help prevent back pain."

Gardeners shopping for the right kind of ergonomic tool can weed out a large amount of discomfort and expense by "feel testing" in stores before they buy."    (Continued via Bryan/College Station Eagle)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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