Got Arthritis? You Can Clean and Garden With Less Pain

Use tools, tips and common sense
grandma and grandson in the garden

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. Scott Burg, DO, offers advice on ways to keep your house spiffy without enduring additional aches and pains if you have arthritis.  

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

Dr. Burg says with planning and some creativity, 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,” Dr. Burg recommends. “If you have pain and damage in your knees or back, long handles 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 arthritis 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. Additionally, buy a gardening wagon to sit on while weeding, and to save your knees, buy a kneeling pad if you must get down low to garden.

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Protect your hands

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

“These drugs can increase your risk of infection, so it’s important to avoid scrapes and cuts as much as possible,” says Dr. Burg. To reduce your infection risk and get a better sensation, protect yourself with form-fitting gloves rather than canvas gloves which are bulky.

Ease your positions

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

For example, are you kneeling for long periods in the garden? Sit on a small stool or garden wagon instead. This will help you to avoid a knee or back flare-up and make it easier for you to get up and down. Also, if you’re sitting on a wagon or stool, be sure to keep your back straight while working rather than hunched over which can aggravate your arthritis. 

A stool proves just as useful for indoor work. For example, when washing dishes, stay upright in a neutral position and take some of the pressure off your back by putting one foot up on a short stool while you work.

Time it right

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?

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“Work during the time of day when you feel your best,” Dr. Burg advises. “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 providers can help you assess your movements and develop ways to keep a clean house while minimizing arthritis flare-ups,” says Dr. Burg. 

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