On the Home Front: Managing Housework with Arthritis

Woman cleaning mirror

Photo: Getty Images

Chores don’t have to be a pain when living with arthritis symptoms.

True, it isn’t one of our favourite things to do, but housework can be even more of chore when you’re hurting. Unfortunately, pain and inflammation aren’t the only challenges that arthritis sufferers face. Fatigue and mobility issues can also be obstacles, and it’s even more important to guard against strain and injury. Even tasks that many people take for granted — like vacuuming, scrubbing and lifting — can aggravate symptoms.

If you or someone you know deals with arthritis, try these tips to help out around the house.

Tips for managing housework with arthritis

Set priorities. You can’t do it all… or at least not all at once. Experts recommend planning ahead to make your routine easier. Think about what tasks are the most important and start there — other tasks will keep. For instance, high traffic areas or rooms that guests see may be your focus while lesser-used areas of the home can wait.

Tackle a little at a time. A designated “cleaning day” isn’t a successful tactic for everyone. To help protect the joints and prevent strain, break up big tasks into smaller chores and space them out. Do a load or two each day and spread it out throughout the week. Tackle one floor or one room at a time, or even a few tasks. For instance, don’t feel you have to clean the entire kitchen — try doing the dishes first. Laundry piling up? Try washing a load or two a day over the course of the week.

Warm up. It’s good advice for everyone: before diving into any kind of physical activity, take the time to warm up the muscles and joints a little. Trying walking on the spot for a few minutes and do some light stretches to limber up.

Switch it up. Some tasks are harder on the body than others — especially when symptoms flare — but you can ease the stress by alternating types of tasks. For instance, alternate light tasks with heavier ones (depending on how you feel), and activities that require standing with ones that let you sit.

Learn some new techniques. Bending at the waist, reaching and kneeling can be especially hard on joints and muscles. Look for safer solutions, liking bending at the knees when you lift and using cushions when you have to kneel down. Try shifting or sliding objects instead of lifting them. Try sitting down for activities like folding the laundry or chopping food.

There are many guides and videos online, but you may need some extra help from a trained professional to perfect the form and adapt the exercises for your needs.

Protect your joints. Depending on what joints are affected, aids like a splint or custom orthotics can protect vulnerable joints by limiting motion or providing the right support. If you think you’re a good candidate, talk to your doctor or occupational therapist.

Get rid of home hazards. An injury can be a major setback — and cause further joint and muscle problems down the road. Accidents happen during the course of regular cleaning, but you can take steps to avoid common hazards like loose area rugs, poor lighting and dangling cords. (See Simple ways to make your home safer for more tips.)

Pace yourself. Even if you’re feeling good, make sure to take plenty of rest breaks to avoid overdoing it and causing future fatigue. Experts note you don’t have to nap or lie down — but do give the joints and muscles you were using a little R&R.

Use the right tools. Whether you’re gardening, cooking or cleaning, the right tools can make the job easier to manage. Luckily, there are many ergonomic options on the market. In addition to electronic gadgets that do the work for you — like can openers and food processors — look for items that have:

– long handles, so you don’t have to reach.

– soft grips, which are easier to handle and manipulate.

– gentler motions, so “kick back” from tools or vibrations won’t anger the joints.

– gadgets that can do the work for you, like an electric can opener or food processor.

– lighter weight items like pots and pans that are easier to lift and clean.

Need a little help? The Arthritis Society has a list of Smart Shopping Tips — including a checklist and what tools to look for.

Choose the right products. Yes, it’s okay to be picky with your supplies. Look for items that cut back on the work — like microfiber cloths to take the work out of scrubbing. Experts advise to look carefully at packaging too. Select items that are easy to open and hold on to, and choose smaller bottles that contain less product so they’re easier to lift and carry. (You can always refill them from a bigger bottle.)

Keep tools and supplies handy. Can you easily reach your pots and pans? Are the items you use most in places that are easy to get at? Reorganizing your cupboards and closets — especially in the kitchen — will make it easier to access items and avoid lifting, reaching or twisting.

Also, if carrying cleaning supplies around presents a challenge, keep an extra set on each floor. Grouping supplies in a caddie, particularly one on wheels, means you won’t have to make multiple trips to retrieve them.

Enlist help. Everyone in the household can and should help with the chores — even young children. If possible, try to delegate the heavy tasks to people who are the most able to manage them, and ask for help with repetitive activities.

We know it’s hard to ask for, but friends and family members are often happy to give a hand — especially when it comes to seasonal chores like spring cleaning and end of season yard clean up.

One last word of advice: give yourself a break. It’s okay if your home doesn’t look like something out of a magazine. Don’t be too hard on yourself — instead, reward yourself for the things you have accomplished and take pride in what you can do.

Sources: The Arthritis Foundation, The Arthritis Society, TheMayoClinic.com