RA-Friendly Ways to Prep Your Home for Winter

Making the fall-to-winter transition on your home? Follow this easy-on-your-joints advice!

Katie Alberts

Fall chores can be tough if you have arthritis. Here’s a rundown of the best ways to prepare your home for winter, safely and without pain!

Rake leaves
Having one “dominant” leg is common in arthritis patients and can make raking difficult, says physical therapist John Gallucci Jr., founder of JAG Physical Therapy. “The tendency is to push off your stronger leg over and over, taxing that limb. So alternate between both legs and take regular breaks.” Even better? “Invest in a leaf blower that does most of the work for you! They run as little as $40!”

Tip! Stock up on sidewalk salt now. This way, you won’t have to carry heavy bags down the driveway when it’s already icy outside.

Move deck furniture
Start by putting on your winter boots, even if it isn’t snowy or icy: “It may seem like going overboard, but the extra traction stabilizes your legs and keeps you from slipping on wet leaves or mud,” says John D. Kelly IV, MD, associate professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at University of Pennsylvania. “Once you’re ready, keep furniture as close to your body as possible, and never try to lift an item above your head. As a general rule, avoid carrying anything over 20 pounds. According to the laws of biomechanics, doing so exerts 80 pounds of force on your knees and 90 pounds on your hips!”

Plant bulbs
“Many of my patients love gardening and swear by long-handled bulb planters,” says Gallucci. “They’re special tools that let you remove and replace soil while standing, so you don’t have to squat. For gardening tasks that require kneeling, bring out an old sofa cushion or roll up a few towels for support.”

Tip! When planning out your garden, put plants that require less care (like perennials) in hard-to-reach places, and plant annuals where they’re easily accessible.


Touch up decks or railings
If you reach too far to recover a dropped paintbrush or use your grabber to pick up something a few feet away from where you’re standing, you can injure your shoulders, back or hips, or even slip and fall, reveals Gallucci. “To prevent this, keep everything you need within arm’s reach. Try using a tool belt or carpenter’s apron. And, if using a grabber, walk over to the item so it’s by your foot, then grab it.”

Tip! If tools tend to slip out of your hands, wrap them with foam tubing (or several layers of duct tape) to make ’em easier to grasp.


Take out clothes from storage
It may be too late for this season, but if you’re currently using large storage bins, swap them for small ones when storing your warm-weather wardrobe. “And move boxes slowly, one by one,” says Dr. Kelly. Dividing the contents of larger boxes into smaller ones—no matter what they contain—is one of the easiest ways to protect against injury, he says.

Tip! Having bulky items delivered? Ask that they be mailed in smaller boxes when possible.


Climb on a ladder
“If you have to climb above the third rung of a ladder, your chances of falling increase dramatically and it’s better to ask someone else to do it,” says Gallucci. Even when you’re on the first and second rungs, be careful. “To keep your balance, avoid leaning too far to one side—your bellybutton should never go past one side of the ladder.”

Tip! Never stand on furniture to reach something; it’s one of the most common causes of injuries.


Prune trees
Since it’s a motion we do so rarely, reaching overhead to trim a tree or tall hedge can lead to sharp pains and spasms. That’s why Gallucci recommends gently stretching your shoulders before and after you start pruning, and making sure your shears are sharp to save yourself unnecessary repetitive motions.

April 2013