Features Februaury 2007 Issue

When Chores Leave You Sore

If laundry is an ordeal and mopping causes misery, try these tips and tools to prevent painful flare-ups while doing housework.

Arthritis pain and stiffness can make the most routine household chores seem like major undertakings. Preparing dinner, mopping the floor, doing laundry, and other everyday tasks become a challenge when joints ache.

"Patients with arthritis say they get tired more easily and complain that they can no longer do certain chores, especially ones that involve bending or scrubbing," says Elaine Husni, M.D., MPH, staff physician in Cleveland Clinicís department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases and director of clinical outcomes research. "They have to find new ways to accomplish the same tasks."

The ability to handle household tasks is important for both preserving your independence and maintaining your range of motion. A different approach toward housework, as well as a variety of techniques and devices, can let you complete chores in ways that are kind to your joints.

Take it easy

Arthritis causes inflammation, pain, and swelling of joints. When your joints swell, you donít move as easily, so daily tasks become more difficult. On days that you feel well, however, you may overdo things.

"Donít do more than you can handle," says Dr. Husni. "If you push

yourself too much, you may overwork your joints and accelerate a flare."

You can conserve energy, lessen fatigue, and protect your joints by organizing your housework. Avoid carrying heavy objects up and down stairs. Instead of lugging laundry to your washer three times a week, do the wash twice a week. Invest in two vacuums, one for each level of your house. Buy extra cleaning products so you donít have to carry them from room to room.

Decide whatís most important; tackle that task and leave other tasks for another time. If youíre doing a big job, like cleaning out the basement, donít try to do it all at once.

One of the best ways to make housework less burdensome is by delegating it. If youíre used to doing everything yourself, it may be time for a different approach. "Donít be afraid to divide responsibilities until you feel better," says Dr. Husni. "Ask your family to pitch in. Tell them youíd be happy to do the laundry if theyíll bring their clothes to you, or ask them to bring all the dishes to the sink."

Change position often

Try changing the way you usually accomplish tasks. Instead of folding laundry standing next to your bed, try sitting down. Sit on a high stool, rather than stand, while washing dishes or preparing a meal. When dusting furniture, instead of gripping the dust cloth, keep your hand flat on it, or use a duster that fits over your hand.

Alternate sitting and standing tasks to avoid stress on one set of joints, and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue. Rest before you become over-tired or achy.

Let tools do the work

When you want to conserve energy and you should nothing quite surpasses the right devices and technology. A vacuuming robot cleans effectively with no effort on your part. All-in-one mops with disposable cleaning pads allow you to wash floors without filling a bucket or bending to wring out a mop. Long-handled brushes let you clean bathtubs and walls without straining, automated power-spray shower cleaners eliminate the need to clean shower walls, battery-operated power brushes take the drudgery out of dish-washing, and tablet-sized toilet bowl cleaners do away with bending and scrubbing.

Moderation is key

Arthritic joints donít tolerate stress the way healthy joints do. To avoid pain and damage to your joints, you may need to change the way you tackle housework.

"You may have to alter your expectations a bit," says Dr. Husni. "Staying active is critical, but you need to do everything in moderation. Donít overdo activities, but do take steps to conserve energy and protect your joints."