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Is Overdoing It With Chores Taking a Toll on Your Body?

By Brittany Risher and Brandon Pytel | April 19, 2018
Is Overdoing It With Chores Taking a Toll on Your Body?

Household chores can be a pain. Doing laundry, mowing the lawn and taking out the trash are all just one more task on an already long to-do list. And if we aren’t careful, these things can also become physical pains. Moving too quickly, lifting improperly or inadvertently doing something with improper form can make us wince.

So how do you prevent a little housework from becoming a big pain?

If you’re like a lot of people, your first thought may be to work through the pain, take a pill or avoid housework altogether. But that’s not always the best response.

Don’t panic, though. There are options out there that don’t involve hiring a housekeeper or living in constant pain. All you need are a few tips and tricks to help you safely move as you go about your chores. And if you happen to strain your shoulder or back, there are safe relief options to help manage those aches and pains.

Preventing Pain No Matter What You’re Doing

Whether you’re sweeping, raking, mowing, gardening, cooking, doing laundry or taking out the trash, there are a few tips that make every household chore—and a lot of general daily movements—safer.

    • Don’t forget to take breaks whenever you need them. There's no reason to push yourself to the limit if you start to feel fatigued. Rest, drink some water, stretch a little and then return to your chore. This is even more important if you begin to feel pain. If you don’t take a break or stop what you’re doing, you might cause lasting damage.
    • Split your work over several days. Maybe you can clean the bathrooms on Monday, vacuum on Wednesday, mow the lawn on Saturday and do other yard work on Sunday. There's no reward for being a weekend warrior and trying to do it all in one day.
    • Only carry as much as you can safely manage. For any activity that calls for carrying something—groceries, laundry, tools, the trash—it’s important to not overload yourself. We all want to take as few trips as possible, but you only have two hands, and overloading yourself with these things is no different than trying to lift a barbell with too much weight. It can be dangerous.

You should also do your best to avoid any awkward twisting or sudden movements. Be deliberate in your movements and focus on your tasks rather than doing them absent-mindedly.

"Movement is something that we all do; sometimes, we maneuver more fluidly than others,” says Dr. Jake LaVere, and co-founder of the Sports Council program at the National University of Health Science of Florida . “I always say, 'if you can move slowly fluidly, then you can always speed it up.' But if you do the reverse, that could cause havoc. Make sure that you're conscious of these simple movements until they’re embedded in the brain.”

Beyond these basics, there are a few chore-specific tips that can help keep you pain-free.

1. Vacuuming, Sweeping, Mopping, Raking

Chores may not seem like a workout, but you can apply the same principles to them for preventing pain. Taking just a few minutes to stretch and warm up your body beforehand can help keep back strain at bay.

Once you’re ready to vacuum, stand tall with your feet apart, one staggered in front of the other. Keep the vacuum close to you, and rather than pushing and pulling the vacuum with only your arm, take a step forward or backward, moving with the vacuum as you use it. Initiate this movement from your legs, not your back.

This lunge-like motion is also good for sweeping, mopping or raking—it helps you avoid bending at the waist repeatedly, which can cause back and hip pain. For these chores, a tool with a long handle allows you to lunge properly, bending your front knee slightly and keeping your upper body upright. Also be careful not to twist as you work. Instead, keep your feet, hips and shoulders facing the same direction.

2. Cooking, Doing Dishes

Get some support from your kitchen as you’re making dinner and cleaning up after. Open a lower cupboard and rest one foot on the edge, or use a low stool. This reduces strain on your spine. And note how you’re moving and angling your body. “When you're doing dishes, make sure that you're not bent over causing additional strain in muscles that aren't supposed to be supporting that type of angle,” says Dr. LaVere.

Remember to change your position from time to time as well, so you're not stressing the same muscles the entire time you saute that stir-fry.

3. Doing Laundry

Twisting oddly to load or unload the washer and dryer, as well as improperly lifting a laundry basket, can cause low back pain. As much as possible, try to place your basket in front of the machine so you can face it as you move clothing in and out. When it comes time to pick up the full basket, face it head-on, then squat down with your legs apart, holding the basket close to your body, and lift with your legs. Remember to tighten your ab muscles as you do this, to further protect your back.

“It's all about good posture, good core activation and good spinal alignment,” says Dr. Jay Greenstein, DC and CEO of Sports and Spine Rehab clinics. “You want to make sure that you're engaging your core muscles. Basically bringing your bellybutton to your spine when moving any sort of a load, as well as maintaining lumbar spine neutral and maintaining that curve in your back.” By keeping your spine neutral, he says, you may also put yourself at less risk for a future injury.

4. Taking Out the Trash

Slinging your trash from house to curb may look cool in commercials, but did you know it can actually hurt you? You could strain or even dislocate your shoulder (really!). And if you have to throw your trash bags into a dumpster, you can injure your shoulders, neck or back.

Keep yourself safe by remembering these tips:

    • Only fill trash bags halfway or so and never push down trash to compact it.
    • Test a bag before you lift it and get help if necessary.
    • Use both hands rather than one to carry a bag
    • Use proper lifting technique: Squat down, hold the bag close to your body and lift with your legs. For the stinky bags, though, you might also need to hold your breath.

If you move the trash bags into a bin, don't try to open the lid while holding the trash. Set the bag down, open the bin, then lift the bag into the bin. And if your trash goes into a dumpster, use a stool or ladder to get to it. That way you won’t have to twist oddly or strain your muscles.

5. Mowing the Lawn

Cutting the yard can be dangerous if you're not careful. The most common mowing injury is caused by debris from under the mower hitting a body part, according to a 2006 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The second most common injury is general pain, which tends to occur in the back or calves.

It's important to clear the lawn of twigs, rocks and other debris before even starting the mower. Eye protection, long pants and proper shoes will help keep you protected from anything blown out by the mower. And wearing ear protection can protect you from the noise of the mower, keeping you from having lasting damage.

Steer the mower by using your core muscles, as well as your quadriceps (the front of your thighs) when going uphill or through a dense patch. Even better, on hills, mow across the slope. This technique reduces the chance for a rollover accident, and in case you do slip, it creates a safer distance between you and the mower.

Managing Everyday Pains

We can try our best to complete chores and exercise with proper form, but let's face it: accidents happen. Whether it's back pain from overreaching while dusting or a shoulder twinge from heaving that bag of trash, you can find relief without taking a pill. Try these other solutions first.

1. Topical Pain Relievers

Topical pain relievers, like Biofreeze® Pain Reliever, are applied right to the skin where you feel pain. “Biofreeze is a safe way to address acute pain before it becomes chronic,” explains Dr. Greenstein.

It works similarly to ice, causing a cooling sensation on the skin. This sensation blocks pain receptors from reaching the brain, so you feel less pain.

And it's proven. In one study, researchers treated 51 adults with acute neck pain with Biofreeze on one side of their necks and ice on the other. Biofreeze was nearly twice as powerful in relieving pain, and patients said they preferred the Biofreeze. Not only was it was more comfortable, but it lasted longer for nine out of 10 patients. And many find Biofreeze to be more convenient and less messy than ice.

And the best part? You don't need to be a pro athlete for Biofreeze to relieve your pains. “Patients love Biofreeze because it helps them feel better, move better and live better,” says Dr. Greenstein.

2. Hot/Cold Packs

Another alternative to ice is a hot/cold pack, like TheraPearl® packs. TheraPearl is a two-in-one pain-relieving tool, since they can be frozen or heated. Plus, these doctor-designed packs will maintain their temperature for the recommended 20 minutes. TheraPearl packs remain pliable and conform to your body, delivering targeted relief where you need it.

“Ice has been used for hundreds of years. And ice can be difficult for people to use,” says Dr. Kevin Wilk, PT, associate clinical director of Champion Sports Medicine. “A lot of times ice cubes don't fit the joint right. It's messy. It melts. It's a pain in the neck, especially if you had an injury and you have to go make an ice bag.”

Instead, grab TheraPearl from the freezer, place it on your injured area, and use the adjustable straps to hold it comfortably in place. No matter the injured body part, TheraPearl has a pack that can help—their body part specific packs are designed for certain areas, so you can always get targeted relief.

If you’re not sure when to apply cold versus hot therapy, click here for a more specific guide.

3. Exercise

A third effective way to manage pain is exercise. Gone are the days of prescribing rest—today physical therapists know that, for most pain, it's better to keep moving.

“Musculoskeletal pain can be managed through exercise,” Dr. Wilk says. “What we have to do is find a way that people can exercise with minimal pain and be able to do it in a safe and effective way.”

One product he likes for this is the TheraBand® CLX™.

“We use the CLX over any other resistance bands,” he says. “What makes it so unique is there's no more need for handles, no more tying knots. This is because, with the connected loops, all you need to do is hook the CLX to something or loop it around a limb.”

The CLX also allows you to train anywhere, anytime. “You can take it to the office, you can take it on trips, you can roll it up and put it in your pocket—you can exercise anywhere,” Dr. Wilk says.

Plus the CLX is versatile. You can work your entire body from head to toe, or you can target a specific area for pain management. “What's nice about the TheraBand CLX is it's an easy way to exercise, but it also targets the important postural muscles that tend to fatigue,” Dr. Wilk explains. “With the resistance bands we can increase the repetitions, that way we have better endurance and maintain better posture longer.”

Not sure where to start with the CLX? Try these exercises to help manage some common pains caused by household chores and activities.

Russian Squat

A squat is the same movement you do when sitting down or standing up, picking up objects such as the laundry basket, lifting a small child and many other daily activities. So, doing squats will train and strengthen the muscles that make those movements easier. Squats also strengthen your lower back.

How to:

  1. Place your feet in the center loops of the CLX band, crossing the band in front of you and placing your forearms through the end loops.
  2. Make sure left foot is attached to right forearm and vice versa. Stand with feet hip-width apart
  3. Cross your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground, touching each elbow with opposite hand.
  4. Keep your chest up and squat down to an almost 90-degree angle with the floor. Keep your core tight and make sure that your knees don’t go over your toes.
  5. Stand up without locking your knees, returning to the starting position.
  6. Maintain a neutral back and neck and avoid leaning forward throughout the exercise.

Front Lunge

Lunges strengthen your hips, glutes, calves and abdominals, making them a great lower-body exercise. This is similar to the movement you should use to do chores like vacuuming and raking leaves.

How to:

  1. Place the two center loops of the CLX around each thigh, above the knees, and hold an end loop in each hand.
  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart and extend arms out in front of you.
  3. Lunge forward with one leg, keeping arms extended and your chest up.
  4. Hold briefly, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
  5. You can alternate legs or do all reps on one side and then switch sides.

Side Lunge

Our bodies don't only move front to back; we also move side to side. It's important to train in all planes of motion, so that your muscles react properly when you move in any direction.

How to:

  1. Place the two center loops of the CLX around each thigh, above the knees, and hold an end loop in each hand.
  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart to start, then step to the side, holding your arms in front of you as you lunge.
  3. Be sure to hinge at the hips and go as low as you can while keeping your chest up.
  4. Hold briefly, then slowly return to starting position and repeat.
  5. Be sure to work both sides.

Hip Extension

The gluteal muscles—the ones in your butt—help you stand up from a chair, climb stairs, powerfully lift something from off the ground and do other lower-body motions. This exercise strengthens the glutes and also improves balance. When you consider that even walking is balancing on one leg at a time, it's clear that this is something we all should work on.

How to:

  1. Place each foot into two consecutive loops. The closer the loops are to each other, the harder this move will be.
  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart, then shift onto one foot.
  3. Keeping your standing leg straight, slowly raise and extend the lifted leg backward, keeping your knee straight. You should feel this in your glute.
  4. Return to starting position without allowing your foot to touch the ground.
  5. Keep your back straight and don't bend over throughout the exercise. Complete all reps on one leg, then switch sides.
  6. If you feel unsteady, perform this exercise near a chair or the wall so you can hold on if necessary.

Seated Row

Activities such as raking leaves or simply opening a car door use your shoulder and arm muscles. This exercise strengthens both.

How to:

  1. Sit on the floor with legs extended.
  2. Place each foot into two consecutive center loops.
  3. Cross the CLX so it forms an “X” and grab one end loop in each hand. (You can also grab the next loop to make the exercise harder.)
  4. Sit up tall, keeping your knees slightly bent and your core engaged.
  5. Pull the ends of the band toward you, retracting your shoulders and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  6. With control, slowly return to the starting position.

Reverse Woodchopper

This is a great way to work all the muscles involved in lifting something overhead or lowering objects to the ground. It also strengthens the entire shoulder region in multiple planes of motion.

How to:

  1. Place your feet in the center loops of the CLX band.
  2. Grab the end loops of the band with both hands (keep your hands together).
  3. With your arms straight out, lead with your right hip, turning away from your left side until your arms are at a 180 degree angle from the starting point.
  4. Hold, then slowly return to start.
  5. Switch sides.

Exercise Ball Plank

Planks are known for being a core exercise, but they also strengthen your back to help reduce back pain and help you stand, twist, bend and lift more easily. And that's not all. Planks also work the arms, shoulders, glutes and hamstrings. To work your core even more, use an exercise ball rather than doing the move on the floor.

How to:

  1. Place your forearms on an exercise ball.
  2. Extend your legs directly behind you so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.
  3. Engage your abdominal muscles and hold this position while continuing to breathe. Work up to holding the plank for longer as you grow stronger.
  4. If this is too hard, perform the move with your forearms on the ground.

Seeking Professional Care

DIY treatment can be enough to manage your pain in most situations, but if the pain persists or increases, it's best to see a professional who can assess your problem and find a proper treatment plan for you.

“There are numerous treatments available and healthcare professionals can provide you with alternatives, such as Biofreeze, for acute pain, and then help you progress to exercise using TheraBand CLX bands,” Wilk says.

You can find specialized healthcare providers in your area with the Professional Finder. For a detailed search by body part or objective (or even various healthcare professional types), enter your zip code and click “Continue.”

Taking the Pain Out of Chores

Cleaning your house and taking out the trash may not be fun, but it doesn't have to be painful. Pace yourself and be mindful of what you’re doing when you’re performing these chores. If you follow some basic best practices, you’re more likely to stay safe and even finish your duties sooner.

If pain does arise, try a slow ramp up of relief options, seeking out treatments such as Biofreeze and TheraPearl for cold therapy before moving on to stronger measures. Doing exercises with the CLX or an exercise ball can also help reduce pain by strengthening the muscles you use during chores. If you still experience discomfort, seek out a healthcare professional who can get to the root of your pain.

There’s no one right answer to pain, but spending a little time now to figure out how to prevent pain in the future can get you back to doing what you love a little sooner.

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