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How Your House and Home Habits Are Making Arthritis Pain Worse

Spending more time at home lately? Us, too. And with that comes change, such as remote working for some, online-only shopping for others, and virtual visiting with loved ones for most.

They are all important steps to help you stay healthy and safe.

You’re doing your best to adjust, while trying to eat well, stay active, and stick to your arthritis treatment plan.

What you may not realize, however, is that some stay-at-home habits may be putting extra strain on your joints, contributing to arthritis pain and stiffness. Indeed, according to a poll of the CreakyJoints Instagram community, 69 percent of people said they have experienced a flare since being under self-quarantine. Get advice here on how to handle an arthritis flare during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to those tactics, it is important to be aware of the unexpected ways your house could be making your arthritis worse, and simple tweaks to help ease symptoms.

Your work-from-home set-up is actually work-from-couch

No doubt it’s tempting. You can stay in comfy pants, curl up on your couch with a laptop, and log in your office hours. This may make you happy in the moment, but it will hurt your back in the long run.

“That posture is terrible,” says Katherine Wilson, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Your back tends to fall into a slumped position instead of being supported, she explains, and your hips stay flexed for longer periods of time, which can cause the joints to get stiff and tight.

Instead, move your “office” to a table where you can sit in a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor, suggests Wilson.

More tips to help prevent back pain while you work:

  • Choose a chair that supports your lower back
  • Keep your head and shoulders up straight
  • Make sure your working surface is at the proper height so you don’t have to lean forward

You text and type All. Day. Long.

Find yourself on multiple group texts or social media chats from morning to night? When your fingers are doing a lot of talking, your thumbs and wrists will feel the effects.

“Use voice recognition software to give your hands a break,” suggests occupational therapist Karen Jacobs, OT, EdD, OTR, CPE, FAOT, clinical professor of occupational therapy at Boston University. Use voice-to-text on your smartphone when you can or download free voice recognition software for your computer.

When you do need to use a standard keyboard to type, try wrist supports or guards to help minimize pain and swelling, or order an ergonomically designed keyboard.

Another tip: Opt for a smaller mouse. This allows the base your hand to rest on the mouse pad so your wrist stays straight, which reduces stress.

You get all your news from your smartphone

You also update your social media from there, check email, and peruse new recipes to try — which means you’re likely looking down a lot. That position can cause extra wear and tear on the muscles and joints in your neck. If you live with arthritis that affects your neck, that can translate to more stiffness and pain. Your neck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of your head.

Research shows for every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on those muscles, says experts at Cleveland Clinic. Looking down at your phone, with your chin to your chest, can put about 60 pounds of force on your neck. Hold or prop up your phone, if possible, so the device is at eye level, suggests Wilson. You can also try these simple neck stretches to help ease arthritis stiffness.

The all-day newsfeed stresses you out

Too much stress can make managing arthritis even tougher. It can exacerbate symptoms of inflammatory arthritis and contribute to disease flares, according to research. Plus, it can affect you on a mental level, making you less resilient and able to deal with your disease.

Take a break from the news cycle throughout the day if that gets your stress levels even higher, says Jacobs, who allots herself a certain amount of time in the morning or evening to catch up on the latest updates. Make time to meditate, practice deep breathing exercises, or try one of these 23 tips can help you improve your stress management.

You buy in bulk

The intent makes sense: Purchasing bigger household items means fewer trips to the supermarket (or fewer precious hours securing online delivery slots). But picking up an extra-large bottle of laundry detergent or big bag of rice can put way too much strain on your joints. Instead, keep a small amount accessible in a smaller container for everyday use, and store the rest until you need a refill.

You cook so much more

That may mean you’re using your slow cooker more often, blender pretty regularly, and electronic jar opener on the daily. Take the time to set up your kitchen to make life a little easier, help you conserve energy, and ease extra stress on your joints.

  • Instead of taking the blender in and out of a bottom cabinet, keep it on the counter
  • Stash your jar opener in a top drawer so it is easily accessible
  • Store everything you use often within easy reach.

And if you need some menu-planning inspiration, here are ideas for nutritious, anti-inflammatory meals that you can make with a limited amount of pantry food and a limited budget.

You wash so, so many more dishes

Standing on a hard floor for a long stretch of time — whether it’s to clean a never-ending parade of plates or do your work from a standing desk — can hurt the joints in your feet, knees, and back.

Anti-fatigue cushioned mats can help reduce some of the stress and relieve pain, says Jacobs. Order one online and put it anywhere you typically stand — just make sure it’s not a trip hazard, adds Jacobs.

You binge-watch Netflix shows

No judgment, but if you sit in one spot too long, your joints can get stiff and achy. Take breaks to move your body and get blood flowing while you Netflix and chill. You can set a timer on your phone to remind you. Or try this neat trick: Keep a small cup of water next to you, says Jacobs. When that cup is empty, that’s your cue to get up. Not only will it help you stay hydrated, but a smaller cup is easier to hold and makes you move more often.

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Arthritis Pain. Dos and Don’ts. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20046440.

Hassett AL, et al. The Role of Stress in Rheumatic Diseases. Arthritis Research & Therapy. June 2010. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/ar3024.

Interview with Karen Jacobs, OT, EdD, OTR, CPE, FAOT, occupational therapist and clinical professor of occupational therapy at Boston University

Interview with Katherine Wilson, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City

Preventing Back Pain at Work and at Home. OrthoInfo. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/how-to-sit-at-a-computer.

Stress and Arthritis. UW Medicine Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. https://orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/arthritis/stress-and-arthritis.html.

Text Neck: Is Smartphone Use Causing Your Neck Pain? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/text-neck-is-smartphone-use-causing-your-neck-pain.

When Technology Hurts: Thumb and Elbow Pain. Rush University Medical Center. https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/when-technology-hurts.

Work: How Can I Get the Right Support? Versus Arthritis. https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/work.

Your Home: Tips for Every Room. Versus Arthritis. https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/your-home.

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