Performing Everyday Chores with Chronic Pain

Recognizing the Challenges At PMR, we understand intimately that each patient who comes to see us is an individual, with wholly unique symptoms and concerns. In other words, no two people are exactly alike, in …

Recognizing the Challenges

At PMR, we understand intimately that each patient who comes to see us is an individual, with wholly unique symptoms and concerns. In other words, no two people are exactly alike, in their pain or in their needs. The challenges presented by arthritis can be very different from those brought on by sciatica, for example—and those differences only scratch the surface.

Still, no matter your condition, there seems to be a common denominator among many of our independent patients when it comes to basic chores and home maintenance: that is, your symptoms fundamentally change your relationship to everyday activities, which can cause a ripple effect that ultimately leads to frustration, lowered self-esteem, and a messy home. 

A Frustrating Cycle 

If you’ve been living with pain for a while, you’re likely familiar with this problematic cycle: You want to keep your home as clean, tidy, and well organized as ever. Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to a certain “shine,” and you plan to maintain your home in this condition, no matter the obstacles.

But when you set out to perform the everyday chores you’re used to, you realize how much additional work is actually involved with chronic pain in the equation. Not only does your condition cause flare-ups and discomfort, but simple tasks seem to take much longer—and more complex tasks feel daunting or even impossible.

Before long, you feel hopeless, resentful, or even depressed, because you can’t keep up your home in the condition that you had before—at least not on your own. These emotional responses only make you feel more and more pessimistic, and may even worsen the symptoms of your condition.

Leaning on Others

Fortunately, there are solutions. When it comes to managing your housework without pain, the first step is always acceptance. That means learning your own limits and understanding that you probably won’t be able to maintain the pace that you once could. From there, you can make smart decisions and prioritize the chores that matter most to you.

Most people living with pain learn to lean on others for support, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, your friends, family members, and loved ones are likely happy to help, and are probably already looking for ways to do so—all that’s left for you to do is ask. According to one study, about a third of those with chronic pain either hire a housekeeper or come to rely significantly more on a spouse for help around the house.

Six Tips for Doing Chores With Pain

Though accepting your limitations and learning to lean on others are important steps in managing your pain, there’s more that you can do. Here are six specific tips for making wiser choices when it comes to performing chores with pain:

  1. Make smart choices when it comes to your equipment. Purchase lighter appliances (or switch from a vacuum cleaner to a dustbuster, for example), find mops and other equipment with a softer, cushioned grip, and don’t buy tools that you can’t physically use.
  2. Pace yourself. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to accomplish any tasks—let alone physical chores that require repetitive motion—with the same ease and speed that you used to. The first step is to accept that you need to slow down—even on days when your pain doesn’t feel so bad. You can split up tasks as much as you like. Many people living with serious chronic pain do no more than one task in one room each day.
  3. Avoid heavy lifting altogether. It’s simply not worth it—when you need to lift something hefty, ask a spouse, friend, or family member for assistance. They’ll understand and will be happy to help. Likewise, you should delegate other difficult motions, such as bending or pushing, to a helpful friend or partner.
  4. Alternate your movements by switching things up. If you’re wiping the windows all day, your wrist is going to hurt—but if you do just one window every other day, you might be in the clear. Use different joints and muscle groups to avoid overworking any one part of your body.
  5. Look for products that have earned an “Ease of Use Commendation.” For this program, a joint effort between the Arthritis Foundation and Georgia Tech, manufacturers’ products are tested to determine whether they’re appropriate for people with arthritis pain.
  6. Not only is clutter stressful and unsightly, but it also makes cleaning and organizing your home that much more difficult. Often, it’s easier simply to do away with items you no longer use or need than it is to do the extra work of picking up, cleaning, maintaining, or putting them away. You may not notice the difference with one or two items, but when you make a serious de-cluttering effort, your chores will become significantly easier.

Learning to Live With It

Sometimes, acceptance is about more than just knowing your limitations. For those who’ve always kept a tidy home, the onset of chronic pain may mean it’s time to take a step back and learn to live with a little mess. Go easy on yourself and prioritize, always looking to determine which household chores will make a meaningful difference in your levels of happiness and personal satisfaction.

Cleaning “hacks” and family support can only take you so far, and not everyone can afford to hire a housekeeper to fill in the gaps. You may find yourself choosing to focus on the truly dirty areas, letting a little mess build up in the mean time—and that’s perfectly alright. In fact, you may find that a pile of clothes here and there is a perfect complement to your evolving lifestyle.

For more tips on how to manage and alleviate chronic pain, contact us at PMR today!