By Tim Barker, Editorial Contributor
The simplest home chores – from cooking to painting to yardwork -- can be dangerous. Your house and garage are full of gadgets, tools and devices that can injure you.
“Tackling household tasks can cause new injuries or aggravate older ones,” says Dr. Karan Desai, hand surgeon with Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute. “Many of the activities involve repetitive motions that can lead to nerve or tendon pain.”
Some of these common things you do around the house involve injury risk.
- Cooking: Knife cuts, burns from hot liquids or fractured fingers from slamming kitchen drawers are among the more common injuries.
- Power tools: These time-saving tools can cause anything from severe cuts to severed fingers.
- Cleaning: Vacuuming, mopping and cleaning ceiling fans force you to repeat the same movements over and over, creating the potential for repetitive-motion injuries.
- Yardwork: The same risk applies to raking leaves, clipping hedges, weeding and cutting tree branches. You can strain neck, arm, shoulder and back muscles. You also can irritate tendons and ligaments. Infections can result from being pricked by thorns or scratched by branches.
- Home projects: Repetitive tasks like painting can aggravate rotator cuff issues. Using a hammer or screwdriver forces you to repeatedly extend, flex and twist your wrists, which can irritate “golfer’s elbow” or “tennis elbow.”
- Step stools and ladders: These can be dangerous if you lose your balance and fall on an outstretched hand, causing wrist or forearm fractures.
While broken bones and cuts are the more obvious injuries, repetitive-motion chores can cause problems, too, says Dr. Desai. Often, they can lead to long-term health issues, such as:
- Tendinitis (pain and soreness around a joint)
- Rotator cuff pain (inflammation around the shoulder joint)
- Trigger finger (one of your fingers gets stuck in a bent position)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (nerve issue causing pain and numbness in the hand and arm)
- Tennis elbow (inflammation around the outside of the elbow and forearm)
- Golfer’s elbow (inflammation on the inner side of the arm and elbow)
Injuries are a part of life, but many of them can be prevented by taking simple precautions. Here are some ways you can reduce injury risks:
- Practice safe cutting techniques. Keep knife blades sharp. Dull blades can cause sudden movements that lead to injury. When using a knife, protect your other hand by curling your fingers when you hold vegetables or fruit and only exposing your knuckles to the knife.
- Keep everyday items within reach. Store frequently used items on lower shelves to reduce the times you need a step stool.
- Wear gloves. This will keep your hands, fingers and wrists safe from cuts when doing yardwork.
- Unplug power tools and appliances before working on them. If your lawnmower jams or weed whacker gets tangled, disable the power source before fixing it.
- Limit alcohol and certain medications. Relax with a cold beverage after the work is done.
- Use strong lighting. A well-lit workspace reduces accidents.
- Have a safety buddy. This is especially important when using a step stool or ladder.
- Take breaks and rotate between activities. When doing any repetitive motion that causes soreness, do it for five to 10 minutes at a time. Take a break, then come back to it.
Rest and Recover
If you cut yourself, wash the wound with soap and water, and hold pressure to stop the bleeding. If bleeding doesn’t stop within 15 minutes, or if you have any numbness, tingling or inability to move your fingers, go to the ER immediately.
You should see a doctor for possible carpal tunnel syndrome if you’re experiencing severe numbness or tingling. This might be fixed with injections, splints or surgery. The same goes for trigger finger — if your fingers are popping or locking, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
For minor aches and pains, such as inflamed tendons, rest for two or three days and use the RICE technique (rest, ice, compression, elevation). If you still have pain after a week, it’s time to see your doctor.