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15% of injuries happen while doing chores—here’s how to avoid hurting yourself

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This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

According to Statistics Canada, about 15 percent of injuries happen when people are doing chores. “A lot of us have sedentary jobs,” says Julie Entwistle, a cottager and the co-owner of Entwistle Power Occupational Therapy. This daily lack of movement leaves us prone to injury while completing all sorts of weekend tasks at the cottage: using a paintbrush, schlepping heavy things, washing the dishes. Well, not anymore, chores. Not anymore.

Look before you lift

Don’t be a hero: can you really lift that thing solo? Lots of large items helpfully list their weights. “Even a bag of dog food tells you that it’s 40 lbs,” says Entwistle. Try to move the object in question with your foot. If it doesn’t budge, you probably can’t lift and carry it alone. When it’s go time, space your feet wide, bend your knees, squat, and move up in one fluid movement. Evaluate your grip before you start the carrying phase. “There’s nothing worse than dropping something that you really care about,” says Entwistle, “on your foot.”

Good clean…fun?

Mopping and vacuuming are problematic for those who already have ailments (arthritic fingers + wringer mop = ow), but anyone can make these jobs easier on their back. Walk with the mop or vacuum instead of standing and moving it around your body. No dishwasher? Marathon scrubbing sessions get painful, especially for those who are tall and using a deep sink. “Deep sinks force you to bend over,” says Entwistle. Do the dishes more frequently, and add a sink grid to raise the bottom. Entwistle stands on an anti-fatigue mat while she’s at the sink. “I have four kids,” she says. “I do a lot of dishes.”

Hammer, don’t hurt

You can pull a muscle doing almost anything that involves your forearm, wrist, or elbow. Since hammers are weighted at one end, it’s easy to lose control of a swing. To keep the movement contained, use the minimum amount of force necessary, and stand close to your target object. Repetitive strain injuries aren’t as common with hammering because you don’t usually hammer non-stop for long periods, says Entwistle. If you’re using only a hammer to put together an entire dock, “you’re probably not using the right tool.”

Painting’s such a pain

If you’ve got a big job—an entire room—break the project into chunks, instead of trying to do the whole thing in one go. Your wrists and shoulders will thank you (the repetitive movement of painting can cause strain). Doing baseboards? Position your body low—sit on a stepstool—instead of bending down. If your painting hand aches, wrap the handle of the brush or roller with foam. “Bigger handles are easier to hold,” says Entwistle. And using your larger hand muscles gives the smaller ones a rest.

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