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5 Tips for Cleaning Your Home When You Have Chronic Pain

If you deal with a chronic pain condition, it might be difficult for you to get motivated to clean when you aren’t exactly feeling great. And you may fear injuring yourself even further while polishing the floors or scrubbing your tub. One 2011 study published in BMC Public Health suggests that 3.8 out of 1,000 people became injured as a result of spring cleaning, and 1.6 of those injuries were severe.

But since it’s nice to have a clean home, you’ll be pleased to find that you can get out your trusty dust cloth yet again—you’ll just have to make some tweaks so that you don’t worsen your pain or exacerbate your condition.

Tips & Tricks for Cleaning When You Have Chronic Pain

Whether your painful condition that makes you feel less than your best, there are workarounds so you can make your home sparkle and avoid pain in the process.

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

While the basement may be beckoning for an organization overhaul, your chronic pain may say otherwise. That’s why it’s key to break things down into doable chunks. “Have a reasonable goal as to what you want to tackle,” suggests Marilee Nelson, Co-Founder of Branch Basics and an environmental and dietary consultant. “Also, limit your cleaning time to smaller, workable bites of time.”

2. Use caution while vacuuming.

As you vacuum the “repetitive bending can exacerbate back pain due to arthritis and even cause spasms,” according to Mehreen S. Iqbal, MD, anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at University of Missouri Health Care “Slouching or staying in a bent over or curved position can tighten muscles and cause stiffness.”

She says that a way to avoid slouching is to place one foot in front of the other a small distance apart, almost as if you’re in a lunge or fencing position. You’ll then shift forward and back during vacuuming to avoid bending or slouching at your spine.

“Vacuuming in a kneeling position on one knee is another way to avoid this bent-over position,” she says. “Other ways to ease pain include switching arms or legs to avoid muscle fatigue or strain.”

If all else fails, you can always turn to a lightweight, cordless vacuum, such as a Dyson, or a robot vacuum, like a Shark or Roomba.

3. Modify movements and tasks.

Dr. Iqbal recommends using a duster with an extender to avoid hyperextension. “A Swiffer duster is a great option,” she says. “Taking the weight off your back by propping the inactive arm on the surface or item you’re cleaning or even on your thigh can also help.”

Nelson agrees with the idea of modifying, saying, “Depending on your pain, modify movements that need to be made. If you can’t spray a cleaning bottle, pour the solution onto a microfiber cloth instead of spraying it.”

Even though you may have done the same household tasks for decades, you can slightly change the way you do things to avoid pain. For example, while doing laundry, Dr. Iqbal suggests breaking up loads to lighten the weight of what you have to carry. She also says that putting the laundry basket on a table or chair that’s the same height as your washer or dryer will minimize bending and lifting.

Or, for washing the dishes, Dr. Iqbal says it can be wise to presoak the dishes to lessen the amount of time standing and cleaning them. She adds, “Wear comfortable shoes with good heel or arch support. You can try placing one foot on the pain-free side on a stool or box while standing as well.”

4. Pay attention to posture.

“When picking up objects, posture is important,” Dr. Iqbal notes. “A posture corrector, found on Amazon or at a drug store, can prevent neck pain from muscle tightness, particularly in the trapezius muscles. Avoiding bending at the waist when lifting can help prevent back pain. Try crouching and lifting with your legs and maintaining proper posture while doing so.”

5. Consider the products you’re using.

Nelson believes that cleaning products with harmful ingredients can pollute the air in one’s home, something that she says could potentially worsen chronic pain conditions.

What should you be looking for in these “safe” products that could be better for your chronic condition? Avoid cleaning products with warning symbols, skip fragrance, and look out for any ingredients that end with “-cide,” which means pesticide is likely in that product.

Movements and Activities to Avoid

Dr. Iqbal shares specific movements and activities that you should cut from your cleaning routine:

• Repetitive bending

• Repetitive twisting

• Bending and twisting simultaneously

• Standing for long periods

• Slouching

• Hyperextending or overreaching

• Moving heavy furniture

• Rearranging furniture

• Reaching overhead if having muscle spasms

Movements and Activities to Avoid

There are times when you need to throw in the towel, literally, and stop cleaning altogether. This is when you’ll ask your partner, family members, or close friends to help you. Or you can always consider hiring a cleaning service. Dr. Iqbal lists the following conditions in which cleaning your home is a no-no:

• Post-surgery

• Acute disc herniation (specifically: avoid lifting more 40 pounds)

• Experiencing pain radiating into the arms or legs

• Balance issues or experiencing falls

• Severe muscle spasms

• Muscle fatigue that comes on suddenly

• Dizziness

• Postural hypotension, which can make someone pass out

Dr. Iqbal shares these final words of wisdom: “The most important thing is to clean as you go and know your limitations. Pacing is important. Stretching beforehand can help prepare you and avoid muscle or nerve irritation. Daily exercise, particularly core strengthening exercises, can help with stabilization, decreasing pain, and the possibility of injury or aggravating pain. After cleaning and organizing, rest and self-care is equally as vital.”

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