The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Planters’ Pain: How to Treat Common Gardening Injuries of the Foot and Ankle

Posted by on Friday, May 6th, 2016


When the weather warms, we love digging in the dirt. Gardening is a great excuse to get outside after a long, sedentary winter. Unfortunately, the sudden increase in repetitive motion and the long days of toil as you tend your seedlings can set you up for foot and ankle injuries. Today we’ll discuss some of the most common gardening injuries we treat in our podiatry office and explain what you can do to avoid them.

common gardening injuries
Don’t let foot pain keep you out of the garden. (Image Credit: Flickr CC User Derek Bridges)

Treating Top Gardening Foot and Ankle Injuries

  • Stubbed toes: Beware your placement of garden ornaments – many people suffer excruciating pain, fractures, and ligament injuries from stubbing their toes. Aggressive treatment, with icing every 20 minutes for the first three days, is recommended to prevent chronic pain. You may also need to wear a special wide-toe shoe or hobble around on crutches to offload pressure for a week.
  • Infections: Soil contains all sorts of contaminants, including the potentially deadly tetanus bacteria. Microbes invade the body through the smallest of cuts or cracks in your skin. Be sure your vaccines and tetanus booster shots are up to date. Also, avoid wearing flip-flops or sandals while gardening, and cover any abrasions with a Band-Aid or protective wraps like toe caps or moleskin pads.
  • Repetitive strain injuries: Perform gentle stretches before you start hacking away at your garden. Lunges, single-leg squats, calf stretches, and ankle rotations are a few of the most important moves. Strengthening your calf and gluteal muscles with weight training three times a week also goes a long way toward taking stress off your feet. If your lawn needs tilling, consider switching to a power aerator to avoid repeated stepping-with-force injuries like sesamoiditis, plantar fasciitis, sprains, and mid-foot fractures.
  • Corns, blisters, calluses, ingrown nails: Choose a round-toe shoe with a deep toe box to prevent toe injuries and abrasions along the outsides of your feet.

What’s the Best Gardening Shoe?

Crocs were originally designed for gardening, but they’re not truly intended for all-day wear. Dr. Anthony Weinert, a podiatrist from Warren, MI, also advises against other tempting and popular styles of gardening footwear such as flip-flops (which leaves you vulnerable to cuts from sharp rocks and tools), athletic sneakers (which are fine for running, but do not have firm enough soles for digging), and cheap rubber department store boots (which are made for keeping rain out, but lack solid soles and water-wicking interiors).

We recommend a few other protective foot coverings instead:

  • Muckboots for Men or Muckboots for Women
  • Sloggers Rain & Garden Shoes for Women
  • Sloggers Men With Premium Insole
  • Merrell Jungle Mocs for Women
  • Merrell Sport Mocs for Men

Basically, you want a waterproof slip-on shoe with good heel protection and ankle stability. You should also look for shoes with traction to prevent slips and arch support for comfort during all-day toil. If you’re working with heavy tools or lawn mowers, work boots are your best bet. If you’re spending a lot of time in the garden consider moisture-wicking socks to help keep your feet cool and dry. It’s also a good idea to remove your insoles to dry out overnight. This helps prevent foot fungus.

Quick Solutions to Common End-of-Day Foot Complaints

Bruised or painful toenails: If you didn’t drop anything on your foot, then your shoes are probably the wrong size or type and you may want to invest in a new pair. The pain could also be caused by cutting your nails too short, kneeling for extended periods of time, or failing to cushion your feet with socks. See an NY podiatrist for personalized recommendations.

Swollen feet: Take intermittent 10-minute breaks. Have a cool drink and prop your feet up on a few pillows (above heart level). This encourages better circulation. You can also try wearing compression support stockings if you know you’ll be on your feet all day. In addition, we recommend limiting salt intake to reduce swelling.

Foot or toes cramped up: You likely spent too much time kneeling, which constricts blood vessels and starves your muscles of oxygen. Get up frequently and walk around, and try using a gardening bench and long-handled tools. You might also consider using raised beds in your garden – these take bending, kneeling, and crouching out of the equation altogether. Stretching, walking, and getting into shape will also prevent some of these routine aches and pains.

Throbbing, dull ache: Age, illness, or weight are frequent culprits for this type of pain. Many people with throbbing pain also have worn-down or ill-fitting shoes, or common underlying conditions like bunions, hammertoes, and heel spurs. See a podiatrist to discuss the many treatment options for managing and remedying your situation. Pain is NOT normal.

We Invite NYC Gardeners in for Foot Exams

Of course, there is no substitute for an examination from a board-certified podiatrist. Consulting with a podiatrist is a particularly good idea if you’re advancing in age or relatively sedentary during winter months. We’re happy to discuss any pain issues or foot and ankle problems you have. We can treat existing problems or help you prevent future trouble. Contact us to set up an appointment today.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.