Back and Joint Sparing Tips for Spring Cleaning!
For those of us who have experienced back pain, we know how daunting spring cleaning can be… Not just because of the mundane nature of chores in general, but because many household tasks require a great deal of bending, lifting, reaching, twisting and repetitive strain that ay increase the risk of back pain and other musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries.
Here are some tips to help you avoid injury, while you work hard to make your home squeaky and shiny!
1. Start Slow and Warm-up
It is important to warm-up your body before starting any type of exercise or physical activity. Increase your core temperature slowly by taking a walk around your house / yard, or by doing some light dynamic (“movement-based”) stretches. Arm and shoulder circles, hip openers, high-knees / butt-kickers, walking lunges are all excellent examples of dynamic movements that will get you warmed up in no time! Note that it is extremely important to increase the temperature and mobility of your body by doing movement based stretches before performing static stretches (“stretches held at end range”) in order to prevent strained muscles and/or other injury. Dynamic stretching will not only increase the blood flow to your muscles and joints for injury prevention, but will also gently challenge your heart and give you a mini energy boost! Make sure you start with slower, lighter tasks, before diving into more intense tasks, such as reaching and lifting.
2. Divide heavy loads
When carrying any load that can be split up into smaller, more manageable size to carry, do so! Although it may be tempting to “save a trip” by carrying a large load of laundry up the stairs all at once, or all the groceries from the car into the house, dividing up your work and taking multiple trips might save your back – which, in our opinion, is more worth it than “saving a trip” – make sense?! Another obvious but less utilized tip: ask for help and don’t be afraid to divide the work between people! When carrying any load, no matter how small or large, remember to bend from your hips and knees, while keeping your back flat and core tight at all times. Also remember to use both hands and keep the load as close to your torso as possible, in order to keep the load closest to your centre of gravity and minimize the strain on your back.
3. A little can become a whole lot!
If you’re anything like me, you might consider yourself a check-list do-er, or over accomplisher when it comes to many things, including cleaning! I sometimes (ok, truthfully speaking…often) find myself guilty of saving all my chores for my day off and then trying to ambitiously (or perhaps more accurately, desperately!) power through my list all at once. The more sensible and realistic thing to do (and thus what I am suggesting!) is to make a weekly list and break chores and your “to-do” list into daily goals. Investing as little as 30 minutes of each day to focus on household tasks and other errands can reduce your stress and greatly reduce your risk of injury and fatigue. You might even find that focussing on a small task or two each day actually gives you more energy to perform that task more efficiently and effectively! Not only will your body thank you, but your brain will too! Bonus points: this also frees up precious time on weekends and off-days for fun activities with friends and family!
4. Maintain proper posture
Anyone that has met me, has heard me say, “brace your abdomen, keep your core tight and spine neutral!” This advice holds true for many activities and postures, cleaning included! Certain chores in particular can increase your likelihood of injury, based on the sheer awkwardness of the task and positional strain it subjects your body to. For example, vacuuming and mopping the floors tends to encourage excessive forward bending, pulling, pushing, reaching and twisting, often with your body angled to one side. Here’s my advice: rather than stretching out your arms and bending with your back to do these chores, hold the vacuum or mop handle close to your body with both hands, at approximately your belly-button height, and walk back and forth with it. For tasks such as cleaning the tub and dusting awkward places, avoid leaning and reaching awkwardly by using a cleaning tool with a long handle, so you can perform the chore while keeping your back in a safe neutral position and avoiding strain. Avoid excessive twisting and keep a relaxed, neutral spine, with your core tight at all times, while performing these activities. Although this might look ridiculous, trust me, your back will thank you later!
5. Use both hands!
Whenever and wherever possible, use both sides of your body to complete your chores, in order to avoid unwanted strain to your shoulders, neck and back. Overuse injuries can be avoided by switching between your dominant and non-dominant hand when possible as well. Although I don’t recommend chopping veggies with your non-dominant hand, you might try other simpler (and less dangerous!) tasks such as scrubbing or washing by switching hands.
Author: Dr. Katie Au, B.Sc. Kin (Hons), D.C., D.Ac, CSCS, FCCRS©, ART®, GT®
Toronto Chiropractor | Acupuncture Practitioner | Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist