Each year my mum jokes about the irony of being chained to the kitchen sink during Pesach, the so-called “Festival of Freedom”. My friends always laugh when I tell them that as a physio, the run-up to Pesach is one of my busiest times of year. For many of us, despite the best-made cleaning schedules and most organised of meal plans, nothing quite prepares you for the physical effort and pressure of cleaning, shlepping, shopping and endless cooking. Throw the worry of getting it all done on time into the mix, and stress levels can become overwhelming, both mentally and physically. Stress can lead to many trying to cut corners in terms of safety. Sadly, this is what can lead to people coming to see me with shoulder, neck, back and knee injuries – the last thing anyone needs to be worrying about right now.
Here are some tips to reduce the risk of provoking ‘back-breaking labour’ or nasty injuries and enjoy a pain-free Passover:
Try to divide up heavy loads.
It might be tempting to save time by carrying lots of heavy shopping bags into the house or bringing boxes of pots and pans down from the loft in one go. This can put unnecessary strain through your neck, upper back and shoulders, leading to strains, trapped nerves and occasionally muscle tears. Try splitting anything heavy into more manageable loads to reduce the risk of injury. Two journeys may take longer but your back and joints will thank you.
Most supermarkets, kosher shops and butchers will deliver groceries straight to your door. Consider whether it’s worth ordering a shopping delivery rather than shlepping it all yourself, especially if you don’t have helpers at home.
Don’t risk a fall by over-stretching
Certain household activities have a higher injury-risk based on the position required to perform the task. For instance, hoovering is very much a forward-flexed posture for your spine. Try to keep your back relaxed and always keep your core muscles tight whilst doing housework. Try to use a step-ladder or stool to clean high cupboards or get something down from a high shelf. Avoid standing on boxes or balancing on unsteady furniture to access hard to reach places, to reduce the risk of a twisting injury, awkward reaching or falling.
Watch your lifting technique
When picking up boxes, however heavy, avoid bending from your waist, which puts a lot of stress on your joints. Always bend from your hips and knees and if need be, kneel down to reach into low cupboards. Try to keep any load you are carrying at waist-height and close to your body, which helps keep your centre of gravity low. Be especially careful when carrying hot, heavy dishes for example big pots of soup or taking heavy dishes out of the oven. The same rules apply – keep your core muscles tight, bend your knees and breathe whilst lifting.
Protect yourself from old injuries and try to de-stress
Pulling furniture or lifting things up to clean underneath can strain muscles, joints and put pressure on the spine. A pre-existing injury will make you more susceptible to re-injury.
If you’re stressed out by the pressures of cooking, cleaning and organising your family and home in time for Pesach, your muscles are probably in a heightened state of tension, and a slight stress may cause a disproportionate pain reaction. Try not to over-exert yourself and listen to your body – if your pain starts, it’s probably time to take a break.
Some jobs simply are a two-person activity. If a task is too much for you to manage alone, wait until you can recruit some help. It’s a good idea to inform your family the night before of the jobs you’ll need them for the following day, so there are no excuses!
Break tasks down and pace activities
Being in one position for too long can lead to muscular tension and joint pain. Try to have more than one task on-the-go and switch between them to avoid maintaining the same posture for too long, for example: try to avoid standing for hours prepping your vegetables. Divide them up and try sitting down to peel and standing to chop. As long as you’re not static in one position for too long, your muscles shouldn’t fatigue too quickly and therefore won’t be as prone to straining.
Surviving Seder without injuring yourself
By the time you sit down to Seder, you might well feel more exhausted than liberated. But don’t risk an injury at this stage. Sitting for the duration of Seder can itself be a challenge, especially if you are already suffering from low back or knee pain. Think about stretching before you sit down and getting up where possible to break up the sitting period.
The question of leaning should perhaps not be why, rather, how we should to lean to protect our backs. Everyone has a different custom when it comes to leaning. Whatever your minhag, think about using a pillow to avoid twisting and sitting in an awkward or uncomfortable position, especially if you lean for a large part of the Seder. Consider using a chair with arms or else rotate your chair 90 degrees so you can rest your arm on the backrest of the chair, to support your back while you lean.
Listen to your body and don’t ignore pain
If you are in pain, STOP! Going for a quick walk, some deep breathing or stretching can not only relieve the aches and niggles, but should also help reduce your stress levels and make your more productive when you resume.
Don’t just ignore the pain and crack on. There’s an awful lot to do at this time of year but if you are struggling with pain you won’t be much use to anyone! As always, please seek professional advice from a doctor or physiotherapist if your pain persists.
Most importantly, try and relax – all of your hard work will be rewarded when you (finally!) sit down with your family and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Naomi Sofer, Specialist Physiotherapist