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 typically one of my busiest times of year. For many of us, despite the best-made cleaning schedules and most organised meal plans, nothing quite prepares you for the physical effort and pressure of cleaning, shlepping, shopping and cooking for Pesach.
This year more than ever, many are making Pesach at home for the first time, causing both physical and mental stress levels to soar. Stress can lead to cutting corners in terms of safety. Sadly, this is can lead to 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’ and enjoy a pain-free Passover:
Try to divide up heavy loads.
It might be tempting to save time by carrying heavy shopping bags or bringing all of the 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 muscle tears. Try splitting heavy lifting into smaller, more manageable loads to reduce the risk of injury.
Don’t risk a fall by over-stretching
Certain household activities have a higher injury-risk because you are sustaining a fixed position for a long time (i.e. vacuuming, which forces your spine into a bent-over position). Try to relax your back and always keep your core muscles tight whilst doing housework.
Use a sturdy step-ladder or stool to reach high cupboards, rather than straining up. Avoid standing unsteady furniture or boxes to access hard-to-reach places, to reduce the risk of twisting or falling.
Be aware of your lifting technique
When picking up boxes, however heavy, avoid bending from your waist, which puts a lot of stress on your joints. Always kneel down to reach into low cupboards, and remember to bend from your hips, not your back. 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
A pre-existing injury will make you more susceptible to future-injury. Now more than ever, many of us are stressed out and anxious about everything going on in the world. Throw the stress of Pesach cleaning, cooking and adapting to an indoor lifestyle into the mix and it’s no wonder we feel tense! Minor physical or mental stress may cause a disproportionate pain reaction, especially at the moment.
Try not to over-exert yourself and listen to your body – if you experience pain, it’s probably time to take a break.
Remember: some jobs simply are a two-person activity. If a task is too much to manage alone, wait until you can recruit some help or, if you are alone, consider whether it is really essential. Pulling furniture or lifting things to clean underneath can strain muscles, joints and put pressure on the spine. It’s not worth injuring yourself, as my old driving instructor used to say – “if in doubt, leave it out”.
Break tasks down and pace activities
Sustaining 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 activities to avoid maintaining the same posture for too long. For example: avoid standing for hours prepping your vegetables. Consider sitting down to peel and standing to chop and mixing it up to vary your position. As long as you’re not static in one place 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’ll probably feel more exhausted than liberated. But don’t risk an injury at this stage. Sitting for the duration of Seder can itself be challenging, particularly if you suffer from back or knee pain. Think about stretching before you sit down and getting up where possible to break up the sitting.
When it comes to leaning, we should perhaps ask how to lean correctly to protect our backs, rather than why we lean. Whatever your minhag, think about using a pillow to avoid twisting and sitting awkwardly, 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 support your back while you lean.
Listen to your body and don’t ignore pain
If you are in pain, STOP! Going for a walk, deep breathing exercises or stretching can not only relieve the aches and niggles, but should help alleviate stress levels and increase productivity.
Don’t just ignore pain and crack on. There’s an awful lot to do at this time of year but if you are injured, you won’t be much use to anyone!
Most importantly, try and relax – all of your hard work will be rewarded when you (finally!) sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour, even if it is a more scaled-back version that you are used to.
Video Physiotherapy Appointments
In lieu of traditional physiotherapy appointments, we are currently offering video consultations. We are obviously unable to provide the usual hands-on treatment including massage, mobilisation and acupuncture. However, some 1:1 advice and a tailored exercise programme can go a long way to help with self-managing pain. Please be in touch if you would like to book a virtual appointment.
Naomi Burns, Specialist Physiotherapist
Updated March 2020