Arthritis pain: Tips for managing housework

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Arthritis pain: Tips for managing housework

Arthritis pain: How to manage housework without aggravating your arthritis pain.

Cooking dinner. Mowing the lawn. Mopping the floor. They may seem like minor chores, but everyday tasks can take a toll on your body. And when your joints are affected by arthritis pain and stiffness, running a household can seem like an overwhelming job. The biggest mistake many people with arthritis pain make is trying to do everything at once, according to Olga Anderson, an occupational therapist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

"It's a cycle — you do too much, then you become over-fatigued and have a flare. Once your energy is back and the arthritis pain is gone, you try to make up for lost time — and then you get fatigued again and have another flare," Anderson says.

How to approach housework when you have arthritis pain

The good news is that you can take many steps to make the work in and around your home easier to manage. Follow these guidelines:

Organize your tasks
By planning ahead you can organize your tasks in ways that conserve energy and cause less arthritis pain. For instance, clean one area or floor at a time. If you're doing laundry in the basement, combine tasks that can be done there to avoid hikes up and down the stairs.

Prioritize what's important
Accept the fact that you won't be able to get everything done in one day without causing a flare of your arthritis pain. Decide which tasks are the most important to accomplish, and focus on them. Other items can wait until another time.

Break big jobs into smaller parts
Break tasks into smaller units that can be accomplished over a number of days. For example, carrying laundry can strain your joints and cause arthritis pain. When clothes are wet, they can be heavy and hard to maneuver into the dryer. And if your washer and dryer are in your basement, you can spend a lot of time running up and down the stairs.

To ease the strain, do a load of laundry every other day instead of all in one day. Another option is to set time limits for yourself. For instance, clean the closet for 30 minutes each day until the job is done.

Alternate tasks to avoid repetitive stress
Two ways to classify and alternate tasks are:

  • Light tasks and medium tasks. Alternate light tasks with medium tasks. If you do a heavy task, plan on taking a break after completing it and follow it up with a lighter task. This gives your joints a break and allows you to work longer. What you consider a light or medium task may vary according to how you feel.
  • Standing tasks and sitting tasks. If you stand up while washing the dishes, then plan on sitting down, when you can, while preparing a meal. Consider using a high stool. Alternating your position helps keep one set of joints from taking all of the strain. Whether you do a chore standing or sitting often is determined by habit. You may be used to folding laundry while standing by your bed, but remember that you also can do it while sitting.

Pace yourself
Remember to take regular rest breaks. This doesn't mean you have to lie down and sleep. Just make sure to relax the set of joints you just used. Length of rest varies person by person — listen to your body. Stop for a break before you're tired or hurt.

Delegate tasks to others
Another way to distribute work is to ask for assistance or hire someone to help you. This is especially important with strenuous activities that put stress on your joints and can cause pain and fatigue.

Family and friends are good sources for help. Don't forget that even young children can be given regular chores.

Purchase extra household supplies for around the house
Keep several sets of cleaning supplies distributed around the house so that you won't have to carry them far. For example, keep a toilet brush and cleanser in each bathroom.

Tips by location in your home

Here are some additional tips for functioning in and around your home. Depending upon which joints are most affected, some tips may be more helpful than others:

In your kitchen

  • Use electric appliances. For instance, use a food processor to do your chopping.
  • Buy prepared foods and convenience items. For example, buy salad mix that is pre-washed and shredded.
  • Use scissors. Cut open a package instead of tearing it open with your hands.
  • Ask for groceries in a paper bag. You can carry paper bags between your forearm and hip, which avoids the hand strain you could experience if using plastic bags.
  • Modify your mixing technique. Reduce stress on your joints by placing your mixing bowl on a damp cloth in the sink while you stir. The cloth will keep the bowl from slipping, and holding the spoon like a dagger takes stress off your hands. Or, even better, try using an electric mixer.
  • Ease cleanup. Use nonstick sprays, foil and disposable baking pans to make cleaning up easier.
  • Lighten your load. Use lightweight pots, pans, bowls and dishes.

Around the house

  • Organize closets and cabinets. Organize strategically so that the heavy and most frequently used objects are easy to reach — between the middle of your thigh and shoulder.
  • Create easy access. Leave your most frequently used items out on the counter in the kitchen and bathroom and on your dresser in the bedroom. Use long-handled tools for reaching.
  • Be realistic. Limit yourself to one major cleaning task a day.


  • Be efficient. For example, gather your tools together in a wheelbarrow so that you're not making several trips back and forth. Leave the hose in the yard instead of dragging it out of storage each time you use it. Put a chair at each end of a garden row — it will help you get up from the ground.
  • Create easy access. Do your gardening in small containers that you can keep at an accessible level or use raised beds.
  • Use tools that minimize joint stress. For example, try ergonomic rakes and shovels. Or, modify your existing tools. Put pipe insulation tubing around tool handles to make them easier to hold.
  • Time it right. Weed after it rains or the garden has been watered — soft soil means less tugging.

If you have arthritis, small tasks can lead to pain. Take steps to reduce the effect these tasks have on your joints.

Last Updated: 02/09/2006
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