Nobody really likes doing chores, but they need to get done. Everyone has their own system for making their chores a little easier, or ways to cope with that chore they like the least, but chores can still be physically demanding. Whether it’s raking, dusting or organizing, many chores involve repetitive motions and can leave you feeling sore for days afterwards. Although you may never have a great time doing your various chores, there are still steps you can take to make your chores pain-free.
Housework Can Hurt...
Heavy housework, which can include repetitive twisting or reaching motions, has been found to play a significant role in the development of chronic low back pain . The more time you spend on housework, the greater the risk of pain. Doing housework for more than one hour a day has been associated with increased back, neck and upper limb pain .
Certain tasks, from doing the dishes or working in the garden, can leave you hunched over for an uncomfortable amount of time. You may be so absorbed in your task that you don’t notice the toll on your body until the task is done. Reaching with your arms while also bending at the waist over and over again can strain the muscles of the back. Turning to the side with your feet planted and rotating the trunk of your body as you work can also lead to injury. There’s also a risk of hurting your back in any task that involves lifting.
What Can You Do About It?
By being aware of your movements, and following several other simple steps, you can make housework a little less physically painful. When lifting heavy objects, stand as close to the object as possible, squat down to it by bending your hips and knees, and keep the object close to your body. Straighten your legs to lift while keeping your back straight. Do not lift with your back muscles or rotate at the waist while carrying the heavy object. To move to the side, pivot your feet instead of twisting your body.
When doing activities that require you to stand in one spot, like washing the dishes, change positions frequently to avoid putting stress on the same muscles. Things like vacuuming, raking leaves and shoveling snow are also a common cause of pain. When doing these activities, step forward with one foot and bend slightly at the knee, allowing your upper body to stay upright in a partial lunge. Reach with your arms, not your back, and when lifting up leaves or heavy snow, bend with your knees and not your back. It’s also easy to exhaust your muscles with any repetitive motion, so when shoveling or raking, be sure to switch hands frequently.
It’s also important to choose the right equipment. For rakes, try to find one that’s proportionate to your body. If a rake is too long for you, you may have to reach too far, and if it’s too short you may have to adopt more of a hunched posture, both of which can put a strain on your muscles, so try to find a rake you can hold comfortably. For snow shovels, use a lightweight, non-stick push style shovel, and push the snow rather than throwing it wherever possible. Snow shoveling also presents the risk of icy walkways, so watch for ice and throw down salt or sand to avoid nasty slips and falls.
Massage Therapy Can Help
One of the biggest concerns with a variety of household activities is the potential to develop low back pain. Massage therapy can often reduce pain and improve function in individuals with acute low back pain. Massage therapy is often immediately beneficial for chronic low back pain . Other health professionals, including doctors, are recognizing the effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of back pain. A new guideline from the National Pain Centre recommends non-drug therapies like massage therapy for the treatment of chronic low back pain .
Massage therapy is also a great treatment option for neck pain. Massage therapy can also provide relief for neck and shoulder pain and can be particularly effective to reduce pain in patients with shoulder tightness .
Ask Your RMT
Everyone has chores they need to do around the house. Ask your RMT how you can make these activities less of a pain.
 Junqueira, D.G., Ferreira, M.L., Refshauge, K., Maher, C. G., Hopper, J. L., et al. (2014). Heritability and lifestyle factors in chronic low back pain: results of the Australian twin low back pain study (The AUTBACK study). Eur J Pain, 18(10):1410-1418. [link]
 Farioli, A., Mattioli, S., Quaglieri, A., Curti, S., Violante, F.S., Coggon, D. (2014). Musculoskeletal pain in Europe: the role of personal, occupational, and social risk factors. Scand J Work Environ Health, 40(1):36-46. [link]
 Cherkin, D.C., Sherman, K.J., Kahn, J., Wellman, R., Cook, A.J., et al. (2011). A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med, 155(1):1-9. [link]
 National Pain Centre. (2017). The 2017 Canadian Guideline for Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain. Retrieved from: nationalpaincentre.mcmaster.ca [link]
 Kong, L.J., Zhan, H.S., Cheng, Y.W., Yuan, W.A., Chen, B., Fang, M. (2013). Massage therapy for neck and shoulder pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2013:613279. [link]