Chronic muscle weakness, stiffness and fatigue can reduce your strength and mobility. Try these simple low-cost or no-cost life hacks to make everyday tasks a little bit easier.
Many chronic conditions cause muscle weakness and restricted movement. These include autoimmune diseases such as myositis and myasthenia gravis, both of which can cause difficulty walking up stairs and lifting objects. Similarly, fibromyalgia can cause muscle pain and stiffness, which can affect balance and reduce mobility.
These are but a few of the conditions that can limit our mobility and make everyday tasks challenging to perform.
Muscle weakness can take many different forms: it can affect all muscles in the body – or just specific muscle groups. It may be accompanied by loss of muscle tissue (atrophy), cramping, and other symptoms.
And, there’s a lot of variation in how mild or how severe the weakness and stiffness may be. In many cases, the symptoms may be much worse during a flare and then subside again. Chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases can be unpredictable.
I live with myositis, a disease characterized by muscle inflammation and weakness. Long before I was diagnosed, I began to notice that I had increasing difficulty with common tasks – like putting dishes away, styling my hair and putting on my coat.
I remember the day that I wanted something out of the refrigerator, but it was way in the back. I was too weak to move items out of the way to get it.
There were also days where I’d manage to get one arm into the sleeve of my coat – and then realize there was no way I could finish putting it on. I had to ask for help.
When you struggle with performing everyday tasks, consider what items will help you function effectively – and to conserve your limited energy!
If your weakness is mild and you’re not at a point where you need – or are ready to purchase – adaptive devices and mobility aides, there are a number of simple things you can do – some of them using items you already have around the house.
14 Simple life hacks for coping with muscle weakness
As cliche as it is, necessity is the mother of invention.
When lack of muscle strength and mobility begins to affect how you function, it’s time to rethink how you can accomplish everyday tasks that most people take for granted.
If you belong to a support group, you know that people who share your condition can be a great source of tips and ideas for how to cope with the many challenges you face. Don’t be afraid to ask how others have learned to manage their muscle weakness and mobility issues.
The list below is by no means comprehensive. By design, most of these are low-cost or no-cost tips to help you manage basic tasks more easily when you have muscle weakness.
Note: this is not medical advice, and I’m not a doctor or occupational therapist. I’m a patient, and I’ve used many of these methods when muscle weakness and limited range of motion made it challenging to perform basic activities.
8 Tips for making household tasks easier when you have muscle weakness
1. Switch to lighter weight dinnerware and cookware when possible, and relocate them to the shelves that are easiest for you to reach. If necessary, consider clearing some counter space for a few of the items you use most.
2. Organize your refrigerator so that items you use most frequently are pulled toward the front.
3. Switch out the manual can opener for an electric one.
4. If you have a small food processor, use it to rough chop vegetables rather than doing it by hand.
5. Need to pull something forward a bit or move it back in a cabinet? Use a long pair of sturdy kitchen tongs. This is a nice alternative to a handheld reaching tool.
6. Difficulty opening jars? Cut out a piece from a rubberized non-skid pad. These are typically sold for use under area rugs. If you have non-adhesive rubberized shelf liner, it will work perfectly, too.
7. Take a seat! You don’t necessarily have to stand at your kitchen counter for food prep. Work from a table, instead. (It’s also helpful to bring a small, lightweight chair into the bathroom. You can use it to sit down while brushing your teeth, or as a place to take a brief rest after bathing or showering.)
8. ASK FOR HELP! Don’t compromise your safety by attempting to do something that could result in a fall or other injury.
6 Clothing hacks for people with restricted mobility
Although there are lots of resources for adaptive clothing (that’s also fashionable), chances are that you may already have a number of clothing items that will work well for you.
1. If you’re able to wear a pull-over type of shirt, find one that’s slightly oversized or has a stretchy fabric. Consider layering an open cardigan over a lightweight pullover.
2. Pants with a looser fit (or more stretch) can be easier to put on and take off. It’s easier to get dressed if you can avoid buttons, zippers, and skinny jeans.
3. If you have restricted movement that makes it difficult to put on and take off a coat, consider a puffy coat. They’re often lighter weight and the slippery fabric makes it easier to put the coat on and take it off. One-size-fits-all shawls or wraps are a great option, and some are warm enough to wear in colder temperatures.
4. Take a load off! Swap out a handbag or shoulder bag for a small backpack or cross-body. Although back packs are best for distributing weight, some people aren’t able to put them on. A small cross-body can be an acceptable substitute… if it’s small! A fanny pack is another option.
5. Slip-on or velcro-closure shoes are much easier than shoes with laces. Remember the shoehorn? Try using a long shoe horn for putting on and taking off your shoes.
6. Having difficulty raising your leg to put your socks on? Try placing your foot on a yoga band/resistance band so that you can lift it. Alternatively, you can use a belt for this, too.
Monitor your mobility
These mobility hacks can help compensate when you’re struggling with mild muscle weakness.
But it’s critical to monitor your mobility and work with your doctor or physical therapist so that you can build or at least maintain your strength and flexibility and avoid injury.
There are simple tests that physical therapists use that can help you understand where you may need more help.
It can be difficult to learn to live with physical limitations. Often, we feel as though we’re giving in when we start to use assistive devices or when we make changes to our lifestyle because of our disease or condition.
But the truth is that when we decide to help ourselves by using tools and methods that make our lives easier, what we’re really doing is giving ourselves a gift – the gift of freedom to live forward.