Tips for Safe & Pain-free House Work
House work is not for the faint of heart! Depending on your task, you could be carrying loads of laundry up and down stairs, maneuvering a heavy vacuum, chopping fire wood, shoveling snowy driveways, on hands and knees to scrub dirty floors or reaching up high to dust ceiling fans. All in all, it is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and keep your home healthy and looking great. Unfortunately, what can come with the heavy work is body aches and injuries, of which, low back pain is a common complaint. If you, or a loved one experiences body pain associated with house work read on for 5 tips and tricks to reducing the risk of injury!
For many of us, house work consists of mundane tasks where your mind can wander and think of other things, or perhaps you listen to music or a podcast to enjoy the time! With the distraction we often don’t pay attention to how our body is moving until something begins to hurt. When running for exercise, or lifting weights in the gym, body position and form are highly enforced to reduce the risk of injury or muscle imbalances. Just the same, these components are important to keeping your body safe when doing house chores. Try these tips to ensure you are moving your body in the best way:
Engage Your Core
You may be aware of the recommendation to “bend with your knees and lift with your legs”, and this is excellent if you are lifting a heavy item, but doesn’t always fit well for tasks such as vacuuming, shoveling and picking up smaller items. In these instances, core engagement is integral to supporting your low back and hips. The muscle called the transversus abdominus (TvA) is the deepest of the core muscle layers and provides support and stability for your entire abdomen as it wraps around the entire core. For detailed engagement and strengthening of the TvA, take a look back at the blog article from September 2020, “The Deep Core – More than Just Planks!”
A great starting point is to imagine pulling the sides of your waist in towards your belly button and pull your belly button towards your low back to engage the TvA. Try to maintain a gentle contraction of this muscle (something that is easy to breathe through). During the most effortful part of your task, e.g. coming up from a forward bend, striking the wood with an axe, pulling the vacuum back towards you, breathe out to engage this muscle group more strongly.
This may be challenging at first, but like any muscle, it will get stronger with repetition and practice!
Adopt an Athletic Stance
A common repetitive movement that can contribute to low back ache and soreness, is bending forward. Do it once and it doesn’t feel like much, but do it upwards of 50-100 times and those little muscles and joints in your back start to get fatigued and sore.
For tasks where you need to be reaching towards the ground repetitively, be sure to have a slight bend at your hips and your knees to reduce the load on your low back. A gentle engagement of the deep core, as described above, will also support your back effectively to reduce low back muscle fatigue. If you have back pain with leaning forward, consider lunging down to further distribute the load into the legs.
When bending down to pick up light objects like toys or dishes from the dishwasher, start in an athletic stance and hinge from the hips and engage the gluteal (buttock) muscles to bring you back up. You can think of a deadlift at the gym, if that is a familiar movement to you. If you are in one position for a period of time and having to lean forward, such as washing dishes, try to stagger your stance and switch periodically.
Raise Your Task Up
When possible, try to bring your task up to hip height or have a seat in a supportive chair so you are not hunching over your task. For example, try to fold laundry on a high table rather than standing at your bed. As with any stationary activity (sitting or standing), give your body a movement break every 15-30 minutes, or sooner if your body is telling you to.
We all have our strong sides: writing preference with right or left hand, a tendency to grab a heavy bag or pick up a little one with one side more often than the other, and having better balance on one leg versus the other etc. However, if we lean into these tendencies, especially with strength-based activities, this can contribute to a strength imbalance and potentially pain due to one side being overused (and other side underused). In activities where possible, practice switching it up! Move the vacuum with the other hand for a few minutes then switch back; alternate which hand is in front when shoveling and carry laundry baskets on the opposite side periodically. These changes might feel strange at first, but you will adapt quickly and be stronger and more balanced because of it!
Stretch It Out!
Once you’ve put in all that hard work and checked off that chores list, it’s time to give your body some love. Just like after a workout, it is important that your muscles return to their full relaxed length to reduce long standing tension and restriction that can put you at risk for later injury. Common areas of tension after house chores are the low back, hip flexors, gluteals (buttocks), hamstrings, upper back, and chest.
Follow along with the video below and try these stretches for 30-60 seconds each side.
Listen to your body and do not push into pain.
- Laying Rotation
- Door Frame Stretch
- Standing Cat Stretch
- Figure 4 Stretch
If you are experiencing issues that do not resolve with these tips, be sure to book with one of our Physiotherapists, Simone or Hannah, for an initial assessment to get an individualised intervention. You can book online or call our clinic at 778-640-1119.