Housework Takes its Toll on Our Hands
Some may adore the daily, mindful tasks of cleaning and tidying the home. For others, it can become a nightmare. Especially when that nightmare comes with strains and pains in our hands.
It’s not always possible to simply stop doing housework. We know, a small amount of time off can lead to larger, more challenging messes that tend to build up. There are several types of injuries common to the rigours of housework. We will discuss these and discover ways to make them easier and less damaging – especially to our precious hands.
Household activities such as hanging clothes, wringing mops, and carrying heavy items like groceries and children are demanding tasks for our hands. A study done by Singapore General Hospital occupational therapists in 2012 found that one of the largest groups of patients suffering from upper limb problems were women in their 50s. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) was a common problem. The awkward hand and wrist positions often associated with housework were thought to be the contributing factor.
The Burden of Repetition – Repetitive Strain Injuries
What is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
Repeated movements coupled with awkward grips and postures can lead to damage affecting the muscles, nerves, and tendons. RSI is common in the upper body including not only the elbows, shoulders, and neck, but also the wrists, hands, and fingers. Daily activities associated with housework like cleaning windows, mopping floors, and hanging heavy wet laundry are demanding on our delicate hand structures. Over time, these activities can lead to RSI.
Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury in Hands and Wrists
Muscle tightness, stiffness, and pain are common early symptoms of RSI in the hands and wrists. As the micro-traumas sustained by the tendons accumulate, a deep ache may begin to develop. This dissipates with rest. But without rest, the subsequent inflammation can worsen. When the small injuries do not have a chance to heal, the muscles, tendons, and nerves are susceptible to additional injuries and tears.
Long-Term Hand Issues from Repetitive Strain
As RSI progresses, our tendons, nerves, and muscles are more prone to injury and long-term hand issues. With the overuse of hands repetitively, it might cause inflammation to the tendons which can pinch nearby nerves. This causes feelings of numbness and tingling in the hands, wrists, and fingers, like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ongoing injury from repetitive household tasks can cause longer-term issues that require increased medical management.
Protect and Prevent Hand Injuries
Prevention is the key to managing RSI. Household tasks are endless, so pure avoidance is rarely an answer. But early diagnosis and treatment help us cope with symptoms and progression. Assistance from specialised hand physiotherapists and occupational therapists will protect hands from further damage, allowing us to properly take care of our beloved homes.
Tips and recommendations to protect hands during housework duties.
Warming up hands before heavy work is a great way to prepare your hand muscles to handle the tasks. Other tips would be to take breaks or switch between different household tasks to ease the repetitive actions on hands. Any time there is pain in joints or aching muscles, it is time to stop the work.
Methods to prevent hand injuries during housework.
To prevent RSI and other hand injuries during housework, it helps to increase the friction of the grip as it can reduce the gripping force on muscle tendons when doing a task. This can be done by wearing a pair of gloves or thickening the handle of the item to provide a better hand grip. Staying fit is beneficial to limit the burden on our finer hand structures to provide a proper body and hand posture to reduce the chance of getting injured. Awareness of ergonomics will support our hand joints and muscles by keeping them in neutral positions rather than unnecessarily awkward actions. Breaking down the tasks also allows our hand muscles to rest to avoid overstraining the small muscle tendons. Regular stretches and some light hand strengthening help to prepare our hands for the tasks. Seek early medical help for any signs of strains or pains.
Management and Treatment of Repetitive Injuries of the Hand and Wrist
Best Practices to Help Heal Hardworking Hands
For many of us, resting is not our normal approach. But when there are small over-use and repetitive strain injuries in our hands, resting is the first method to find relief. Resting allows inflammation of our muscles and tendons to subside. Once the inflammation is reduced, our body has time to heal.
Resting our hands doesn’t necessarily mean stopping work completely. Try out the old saying, “a change is as good as a rest”. Changing the task may be enough to allow strained muscles and tendons to relax. Choosing to do the more difficult tasks in small bursts, alternating with lighter chores might help. Avoiding awkward twisting or gripping actions may also prevent symptoms from worsening.
Our daily routine and housework activities can be hard to change or slow down. When we just can’t help ourselves, use a stabilizing device to immobilize our hands or wrists to allow the muscle tendons to rest. A splint or elasticized wrap or bandage may help prevent the repetitive movements that are contributing to the damage. The immobilization may prevent further injury and possibly help the injury heal.
We may experience a sudden worsening of pain in our hands indicating a new or exacerbated injury. With new acute injury which you experience pain and swelling, the hand surgeon or hand therapist may recommend the practice of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). For the first two to three days after the new onset of pain, apply RICE to the affected hand for 15-minute intervals three times a day. The rest, ice, and elevation can reduce swelling while compression supports the hand while it heals. When the swelling has decreased, use heat for relief and to help increase blood flow. Heat can speed up the healing of the affected area.
Once hand injuries are healing, a hand therapist may recommend a plan to aid recovery and prevent re-injury. The plan may include prevention strategies such as strengthening and stretching exercises. Hand therapists can develop a customized treatment plan to help reduce pain and improve the range of motion. The hand therapist will also have advice for workplace modifications. They may recommend changes in how you hold tools or use hand-held devices.
When to Let Go
Give It To A Cleaning Robot
Wondering what to do while you are diligently resting and healing your repetitively strained fingers, hands, and wrists? Why not train a cleaning robot to take up some of the workload? Window-washing, floor sweeping, vacuuming and even mopping, there’s a bot for your least-favourite housekeeping chores. There may come a time when you just can’t do it anymore because of RSI hand pain. A cleaning bot can make the transition easier, saving you time to do the things you still love and enjoy. With all the advancements there are with these innovative cleaning tools, you might not even want to wait! Allow them to take over so you can save your hands for more fun things.
Ask For Help
If a cleaning robot is not your cup of tea, it may be time to ask for help. A neighbour, friend, or family member can take some of the heavier tasks off your to-do list. During an injury and recovery, asking for help will allow you to stay on top of the daily household demands. The best part is, once you are back to your full strength, you won’t have a large build-up of chores to conquer.
Outsource Your Home Labour Force
When it is time to let go of the household chores, incredible teams of professionals are available to help. Not only does outsourcing your home labour force save you time and energy, but it also saves the wear and tear of hand and wrist RSI that can be acquired during housework.
How CHARMS Can Help
Speak to your friendly therapists at CHARMS if you need help protecting your hands during housework.