Got Arthritis? You Can Clean and Garden With Less Pain

Use tools, tips and common sense
Mother and daughter gardening

By: Scott Burg, DO

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For many people, satisfaction is a squeaky-clean kitchen, a dust-free living room or a garden in full bloom. But the work it takes to get there can be a pain for people with arthritis.

When it comes to housekeeping, we encourage people to stay active. Gardening can provide a dose of much-needed movement, for example. And the warm water of hand-washing dishes offers its own form of therapy for stiff, sore hands.

However, we also encourage common sense. With planning, you can keep a tidy house and yard without making yourself miserable in the process.

Rethink your tools

There’s a world of specially made tools to help you garden, clean and do other chores while reducing strain.

Take yard work, for example. Ditch that 6-inch trowel you’ve had in the garage for decades. For digging, planting and weeding, choose tools with long handles instead. If you have pain and damage in your knees or back, long handles will allow you to work in a more neutral position rather than constantly bending.

The same goes for dusters, brooms and mops for indoor cleaning. Long handles help you avoid stooping or reaching in ways that aggravate your symptoms.

If hands are your pain points, pay attention to grips. Manufacturers make tools with special grips — often thicker and shaped to fit hands — for people with arthritis. Groups such as the Arthritis Foundation test such tools to determine which ones are most effective.

Protect your hands

Wear gloves for outdoor work, especially if you’re taking drugs such as prednisone, methotrexate or biological agents.

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These drugs can increase your risk of infection. Gardeners like that “dirt under your nails” feeling, but outdoor work too often comes with cuts and scrapes. To reduce your infection risk and get a better sensation, protect yourself with form-fitting gloves rather than canvas gloves.

Know your limits

“Ditch that 6-inch trowel you’ve had in the garage for decades. For digging, planting and weeding, choose tools with long handles instead.”

Scott Burg, DO

Department of Rheumatologic and Immunologic Disease

Nobody wants to feel limited. But if you’re dealing with arthritis, a 4-hour session of housework or outdoor chores may do more harm than good.

Cramming your chores into one day will leave you sore and symptomatic the next day. It’s better to prioritize them and spread them out over multiple days. Also, force yourself to take plenty of breaks. Rest is important, and breaks also help you avoid staying in one stressful position for too long.

Ease your positions

If your back is screaming after doing a particular chore, pay attention to your position the next time you do it.

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For example, rather than kneeling for long time periods in the garden, sit on a small stool. This will help you avoid knee and back strain and make it easier for you to get up and down for breaks.

A stool proves just as useful for indoor work. For example, when washing dishes, rather than bending at the waist repeatedly, stay upright in a neutral position by putting one foot up on a short stool while you work.

Think about timing

Do you feel best in the morning after a night of rest? Or are you most energetic and pain-free after a day of movement?

Work during the time of day when you feel your best. For example, if you feel the least pain in the hours after taking certain medication, that is a great window for doing chores.

Ask for help when you need it

Let’s say you like doing laundry, but you have arthritis in your knees or lower back. Washing and folding clothes may not aggravate your symptoms, but carrying a heavy laundry basket up and down stairs certainly can.

Is there someone else in the house — a spouse, child or roommate — who can help lug the laundry up and down stairs? It’s a small favor that can save you strain and keep you fresh for other chores. If you don’t have assistance, try doing smaller loads of laundry at a time to reduce the heavy lifting.

Help comes in other forms, too. Talk to your rheumatologist, occupational therapist or physical therapist about the chores that aggravate your symptoms most. These professionals can help you assess your movements and develop ways to keep a clean house while minimizing arthritis flare-ups.

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