Housekeeping Without Pain

Most of us have now adopted jobs we are not used to:  Cleaning sinks, scrubbing toilets, wiping down stoves, counters and desks, dusting, and vacuuming.  These are all physical activities with injury risks just like fitness activities.  The good news is that they provide a calorie burn, averaging 170 calories an hour. And housekeeping is exercise you can even incorporate into your fitness routine as described in this Web MD article.   

The bad news is that whole body pain complaints from household tasks are up, from wrist to foot.  Here are some tips to make your body more comfortable while keeping your house in order:

Get geared up:  

Wear crocs or house shoes that you can get wet but protect and cushion your feet.  This will prevent heel and foot pain and also avoid toe sprains or fractures from banging into furniture or dropped cleaning items.  
Wear designated cleaning clothes you don’t have to lean back to avoid the splash of cleaning products.  Tie your hair back so you don’t flip your head or contort your body to see better.  This will avoid back and neck pain.  
Use easy grip sponges, brushes and floor cleaning handles to prevent wrist and elbow pain from squeezing hard.  
Do you have an automatic room sweeper such as a Roomba or irobot?  Think about treating yourself!!
Consider disposable cleaning products such as toilet wands and mop attachments to prevent the extra cleaning involved in cleaning your cleaning products.  While this is not best for the earth, reducing your pain and stress levels are a priority right now.  

Ergonomic Musts:

To prevent shoulder and arm overuse injuries, purchase products that reduce scrubbing, like shower mists, scrubbing bubbles, and mildew removers.  It’s currently easier to access less popular brand cleaning items, which may even work better!  Just today I was able to purchase Murphy’s oil soap, Perfect Glass (which contains a lot of disinfecting alcohol!) and X-14 mildew remover.  
Keep motions smooth and easy.
If a spray bottle is sticking, replace it to prevent wrist and elbow overuse.  
Don’t struggle with tangled sheets or stuck in the closet cleaning tools.  Change your positioning, ask for help, or grab a safe step stool to raise yourself up to the level you need to be to lower shoulder, neck and back stress.  
Reduce back stress by limiting reaching, bending and leaning to small motions by facing the item you are cleaning so you are not twisting.  If a vacuum cleaner is hard to push, change the setting or have someone else do it.  Purchase long handled dustbrooms and dustpans to prevent bending over.  And don’t carry heavy loads such as laundry from room to room; make smaller stacks and have family members fold their own.  
Follow these tips to reduce cleaning work load, like putting away dust collecting shelf items and using a squeegee on your shower after you shower.  

Decrease Joint Stress:
Repetitive motion activities such as mopping, scrubbing, and reaching take more of a toll on your body when they are performed for longer periods of time.  Much like fitness activities where you may do arms 1 day, legs the next, mix up your cleaning and divide it over days rather than all in 1 day.  Leaning on elbows, knees and wrists can stress out tendons, ligaments and joints.  Kneel or lean on a pad or bathroom mat and make sure you are not in that position for more than 5 minutes.  Squatting is actually good for the spine but hard on the knees so don’t avoid the activity but listen to your body if it is feeling pain.  

Enlist help:

If it’s just you at home, you can clean up after yourself immediately.  Wipe off spots as soon as they are created to prevent them from sticking and requiring scrubbing.  Vacuum for short intervals every other day instead of longer and less frequently.  
If you have a house full of family members, assign them each a task or two every day.  My son vacuums, my daughter empties the dishwasher, my other daughter cleans up after dinner.  They all pitch in with varied assignments when needed.  
Ask everyone to be NEATER, even the dog by having a towel near the door when returning from a walk. 

For a final read, see  The New York Times comprehensive article on keeping your home efficiently clean with less work.   

And from a doctor’s perspective: if something is sore, apply ice for 5-10 minutes and rest from the offending activity for a few days.  If you can’t comfortably clean, let it go.  Who’s coming over to see how clean your house is?? Reducing your physical stress will reduce mental stress… something we all need to preserve right now.   I strongly recommend you go easy on yourself!   -- Nadya Swedan MD


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