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Housework and axial SpA (AS)

Activities such as housework and cooking can be difficult when you have axial SpA (AS).

Pain and fatigue can limit the types and amount of movements you can do. If you have restricted mobility, then you sometimes have to adapt your activities. Here are our top tips to make things easier, but do remember to speak to your doctor if your condition isn’t well controlled and you’re struggling.

Vacuum cleaning

Shop around and try out different vacuum cleaner to find the right one for you. The key things to consider are:

  • Weight
  • How easy it is to push/manoeuvre
  • If it is cordless (sometimes it’s easier to not pull the cord around)
  • If battery powered, how long does the battery last?
  • Would a self-propelling robot vacuum be suitable for your home?

It can be helpful to hoover little and often, rather than doing the whole house in one go. Using a small handheld vacuum cleaner for little jobs regularly can reduce how often you need to use a larger hoover. When pushing a hoover, try to keep your back upright and legs in a lunge position to help you push using the strength in your legs.

Washing and ironing

If you find reaching down difficult, it can be helpful to have your washing machine raised so the door is waist height. Alternatively, you could use a long-handled grabbing tool to pull items out of the machine.

To help pace your activities, do smaller loads slightly more often. This can be helpful to reduce the amount of lifting, carrying and ironing.

Try using a laundry basket with wheels if you have to transport it far before ironing.

It’s also beneficial to do these activities at a time of day when you’re feeling looser and in less pain.

For items that don’t need ironing, you can sit at a table to fold the laundry.

When ironing, ask someone else to set the board up and ensure it’s at the correct height. Try not to lean forward too much when ironing and your shoulders should feel nice and relaxed. You can keep the washing basket at waist height if you find bending difficult or you could actually use the motion of bending down to get items as one of your exercises for the day. Using a reflective ironing board cover can reduce the time you need to spend ironing.

Dusting and cleaning

Think about different products which could make cleaning easier.

  • Long-handled mops
  • Mops with cleaning wipe attachments so you don’t have to wring out the mop
  • Drop in toilet cleaners to reduce scrubbing
  • Long-handled dusters for hard to reach areas

Food shopping

Ask for help with bag packing and request the bags to be only half-filled. Then when you’re unloading the bags, you can do multiple trips with smaller bags to avoid carrying too much. If you need to pace yourself with unpacking, unload the cold items and then take a break.

In cupboards, use step shelves so you can easily see what’s in the cupboard and avoid lots of lifting. Similarly, you can use plate shelves to stack plates in smaller sections.

Cooking

Do plan meals ahead of time and bulk cook food on days when you are feeling good, so you have food prepared for days when you need to rest more.

When cooking, can plan in rests.  Do some preparation earlier in the day and then take a rest. Make meals that need some assembly and then time in the oven, so you can rest again before serving the meal. You can reduce preparation time by buying pre-chopped food (including frozen) or asking friends and family for help.

If you find standing for longer periods difficult:

  • Use a chair or stool chairs when preparing food or to rest when food is cooking
  • Wear comfortable, supportive footwear
  • Use a soft mat to stand on
  • Use a walker with a seat to have multiple options
  • Use a food processor/small chopper to reduce prep time

To help with lifting:

  • Ask someone to put everything you need on the counter before cooking
  • Use lightweight pans, pots and trays (tins, silicone or disposable foil can be helpful)
  • Use two-handled pots and saucepans
  • Use a kettle tipper
  • Use a rolling trolley to transport food
  • Cook more on the hob to avoid lifting items in/out of the oven
  • Use thicker grips on handles or silicone mitts

Unless you have a willing ‘washer-upper’,  clean as you go. You can also make one-pot meals, use a slow cooker or use disposable food trays/foil to reduce the washing up.

Pacing

It’s very important to pace your activities so you don’t overdo it on one day and then spend days recovering. It’s helpful to prioritise tasks so you do the important ones first and break the larger tasks down into smaller parts. You can schedule short rest periods throughout the day to manage pain and fatigue.

Do recognise that what you’re able to comfortably do may vary each day, so listen to your body and be guided by it. You can always ask for help from friends and family. For more information do download our Guide to Living with axial SpA (AS) fatigue, which includes an activity diary.

Using housework as a workout

Movement is really helpful for managing axial SpA (AS), but it’s important to pace activities and not do too much too soon.

Housework activities that involve bending, stretching, lifting and moving could actually count as exercise! So you can use small jobs around the house as your exercise sessions, which can be particularly helpful if you work from home or spend a lot of time sitting.

NASS Trustee, Gillian Eames has created the ‘washing line challenge’ and uses her washing line to tell how well she’s doing with her flexibility and exercises. If she can’t reach up to hang washing on the line, she knows to increase her daily exercises. A simple way to check your progress and give you some added motivation.