We know that with arthritis, your joints are weaker and less stable and you may experience ongoing pain and fatigue as part of your condition – doing your housework can certainly be challenging!
As soon as you find out you have arthritis, it is important to start looking after your joints. Small changes in the way you do things can greatly reduce the stress on your joints and help prevent problems becoming worse in the future. Read the tips below on doing your housework with the path of least resistance.
Consider the following when doing your housework activities:
- Pace yourself – if you carefully plan and organise your activities you can make the most of your energy. Pacing helps you to do what you want to do without increasing your pain or fatigue. Set a steady pace and take a break BEFORE you get tired and sore. This principle can be applied equally to a specific activity (i.e. walking) as it can to a range of activities on a given day (e.g. doing the grocery shopping, walking the dog etc.) This can also incorporate breaking up tasks into smaller bits. For example, rather than trying to clean the entire house, just do one or two rooms each day or spread out your laundry over the week.
- What is the best time of the day for you to clean? By listening to your body, you know if the time is right to take on a big chore like cleaning the bathroom. Also, if you wake up feeling sore in one area of the body, avoid housework that will put strain on that area.
- Try to avoid doing too many strenuous tasks in a row, as this may result in you over-exerting a specific area of your body. You could alternate light and heavier tasks – such as vacuum one room, then clean your bathroom bench, then vacuum another room – taking a break in between if you need to. You could also alternative tasks where you can sit in between, like folding laundry.
- Carry and lift items using two hands instead of one wherever possible or slide them along the floor.
- Use equipment to make the job easier – see tools section below for specific examples
- Avoid staying in one position for too long as this can lead to tired muscles and stiff joints. It is generally recommended to change positions or stretch every 20 minutes and release your grip every 10 to 15 minutes while doing activities involving gripping with your hands or fingers.
- If you have a two storey home, have cleaning supplies/vacuum on both floors to avoid carrying the products up and down stairs.
- Assign weekly tasks to other family members and keep the schedule on the fridge…many hands make like work!
- Hire a cleaner or ask for help – if you don’t want or can’t afford a cleaner weekly, perhaps you could get one too visit every one or two months to do a deeper clean or ask a friend or family member to help. This will make your housework lighter in between visits.
- Larger/thicker handles – these provide an easier grip and reduce stress placed on the small joints of the fingers and hands
- Longer handles – these will extend your reach, reducing bending and stress to your back (for example, dustpans, brooms and mops) to avoid bending and stooping
- Lever handles – these reduce twisting forces that may damage small joints and cause pain
- Non-slip floor mats – these can help reduce the risk of falls
- Non-slip hand held cloths – these can make it easier to grasp slippery items
- Lightweight sweepers and mops (many with inbuilt detergent sprays) can be used in place of heavy mops, buckets or vacuums
- A tap turner is a portable lever device that can assist with the turning action required to operate a tap. It reduces strain on the fingers and wrist. Alternatively, lever taps could be installed.
- Use wet wipes or baby wipes for dusting
- Keep the rubbish bin in a handy position – consider using a smaller sized bin to avoid carrying large and heavy bags of rubbish when the bin becomes full
- Put cleaning liquids in smaller bottles that are easier to lift
- Wear gloves that give you a better grip – particularly when scrubbing or cleaning
- Use lightweight cookware and plates that are easier to wash up and put away
Making the bed
- Lifting a mattress can be difficult. Ask a family member for assistance or use a lightweight mattress
- When purchasing a mattress consider if a ‘no turn’ mattress meets your needs
- Flat sheets can be easier to handle than fitted sheets
- Unfold your sheets and bedding on the bed so you don’t have to hold, shake or lift large volumes of material
- Don’t worry about hospital corners…use a long-handled wooden spoon to help tuck the sheet under the mattress and don’t worry about tucking the top sheet at all!
- Quilts can be lighter to lift and move than blankets
Ironing and washing
- Store powders, liquids and other containers at a level which avoids the need to bend or reach up high for them
- Avoid double handling of laundry, hang clothes on hangers to dry (avoiding pegs) then hang them straight up in your wardrobe
- Consider using front loading appliances on pedestals rather than top loading appliances
- Use a laundry trolley instead of carrying a basket
- Tongs or a long handled reaching device can be used to remove clothes from the washing machine or dryer. This prevents leaning down into the machine
- If using standard pegs is difficult, consider using pegs which do not require a pinching or squeezing action. There are a number of different varieties available which work on a push or clipping action or have larger handles
- Mix lighter things with heavier things when doing a load of washing – for example, avoid a whole load of towels
- Use a lightweight iron, or steam iron
- Ideally, purchase clothes which do not require any ironing!
Overall, don’t overdo it. If you are having an arthritis ‘flare’, having a bad day or just can’t face housework – take short rest breaks, leave it until tomorrow or ask for help. Don’t feel guilty, it is important to look after yourself as a priority!
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Sources and Further Reading
Creaky Joint US: Household Chores with Arthritis
On the Home Front: Managing Housework with Arthritis
Health Central: Household chores with RA