PREVENTING BACK PAIN AT HOLIDAY TIME !

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Christmas can mean increased back pain for those of you who have a history of back injuries.  Christmas time is loads of work for YOU- Santa’s elf.  As you are decorating trees, climbing ladders, hanging lights, baking cookies, shopping, and traveling it can all lead to increased strain on your spine. Preventing back pain at holiday time means not only being extra careful and using good techniques (or what we therapists call body mechanics) when lifting and decorating, but also incorporating exercises to help prevent back pain at Christmas time.  According to the Product Safety Commission, 11,000 people end up in the emergency room every Christmas due to decorating injuries, which include broken bones, cut, burns and falls. In the therapy clinic I would see many new patients the first of the year for low back strain due to straining  while holiday decorating.  As someone who loves to decorate myself ( yes, I have 5 trees) I have 13 tips for preventing back pain, as well as falls at holiday time:

1. Lift with your legs, when hoisting up packages and boxes of Christmas decorations.Try specifically not to bend, twist and lift all at the same time. Exhale when lifting. This helps to decrease disc pressure that could lead to a herniated disc and also helps to engage your core, which will help keep your back stabilized.

2. When carrying boxes and packages, keep them close to your torso. Don’t try to carry too much.  The lazy mans load does not apply here. If you are shopping, unload some of your gifts into your car during your shopping visit so you are not trying to carry too much and then engaging in awkward postures- as you lug around 15 shopping bags, carry a purse, text and drink a latte.

3. When picking up grandkids, etc, lift with your legs. Do not swing kids around or even sit for prolonged periods of time on the floor playing with new toys. These positions can strain the back. Also trying to shop, cook and decorate holding a child on your hip can be very tiring for the back and the arm. You are unbalanced when lugging a kid around. Put them down and give them a job to do instead.

4. When handling boxes of Christmas goods that are on the floor or on low shelves, kneel or squat, rather than bend and hunch over. This position increase disc pressure and makes you at risk for a herniated disc.

5. When wrapping  Christmas gifts, don’t do it hunched over or on the floor .  Put the gift up on a countertop or table so that it is at waist level and  you can maintain correct posture while having the gifts at this comfortable height.  Standing or sitting on a high stool is best since sitting on the floor usually causes you to strain the upper body and low back.

6. Don’t force yourself into contorted positions while reaching or use a prolonged awkward position to decorate Christmas trees or hang Christmas lights. Find someone taller, or use a stable stepping stool.  Straining to reach as you flex forward can really strain your back  muscles, put increased pressure on your discs and increase your risk for falls.

7. If you must use a ladder, make sure it’s stable and have someone hold it at all times. The most common fracture that occurs when falling off the ladder is heel bone (calcaneal) fractures. Trust me on this one, I have personal experience.  Not an easy injury to heal from.

8. When carrying packages outside, first scan the path you’ll be walking to make sure there’s no ice or anything else you might slip on. If you can’t see over your packages or out in front of you, make two trips.

9. If driving for long periods, stop every 2 hours for some stretches, walking and water. While  sitting for extended periods in your car, be conscious of good sitting posture; no persistent slouching or leaning. Use a lumbar support pillow to help keep your lumbar curve in a healthy position. Feet on the dashboard is not a good position for your body.  Perform some of your Pilates exercises like chin tucks, shoulder shrugs and rolls,  seated pelvic tucks, gluteal squeezes, and spine stretches forward. This will help to keep your postural muscles happy.

10. If traveling by air, get up every 30 minutes and walk around and continue to use your lumbar pillow. Perform the exercises above as well to keep the back from getting stiff. Add in some toe tapping and ankle pumps to keep the blood flowing in your legs too.

11. Watch what you eat: Christmas time weight gain can add strain to the back and cause pain. ( Are you listening Santa? Go easy on the cookies)

12. If you will be standing in your kitchen for a long time baking and cooking, try to either stand on a shock reducing mat or wear supportive shoes to help alleviate  strain to the back while standing. The support of the shoes will help you to stand taller and decrease strain on the legs. Ho, ho, hold in your core to help keep postural muscles in check.

13. Do not skip your workouts. Make time to take care of your body with a PILATES CLASS,  a roller workout, gym visit , or walk. You will feel so much better if you just take 30 minutes a day and move your body.

Happy Holidays and may all your backs be pain-free —  Gift Certificates for Pilates classes or private sessions from Infinity Health are available at www.infinityhealth.org

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FALL LEAF RAKING TIPS

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I know what all of you are going to do today !!!  Same as me- rake up the messy yard !!

 So here are some tips using your Pilates Principles to stay back pain free !

  1. Warm up – Take a 5-10 minute brisk walk to warm up your muscles. There is no scientific evidence that stretching before an activity prevents injury BUT Lay on your roller and loosen up your fascia/connective tissue.
  2. Choose the Right Rake – Use a rake that is proportionate to your body size. Using a rake that is too long or too short will cause you to alter your posture and strain your muscles. Consider the rake width. Narrow rakes may make the weight of the leaves lighter but they can also make the job longer. Extra wide rakes gather more leaves but can put more of a strain on your back.
  3. Watch Your Posture – Like any exercise, proper form is important. Muscle pain and strain occurs when you put your body in awkward positions and then try to contract or extend muscles in these odd positions. To maintain proper posture while raking keep your legs slightly bent, your weight centered, and reach with your arms and not your back. ENGAGE your CORE while pulling the leaves toward you. Meaning, exhale as you pull or push anything.  Make this an ab workout.  After every 20 minutes of raking activity stand up, place hands on hips and gently stretch into a back bend ( like swan dive or swimming) for a few seconds 3-5 times especially before lifting anything.
  4. Switch Hands Frequently – You exhaust your muscles with repetitive motion. Switch your lead arm frequently while raking to prevent, or alleviate, muscle exhaustion. ALSO switch jobs occasionally. If you are raking with a partner. You rake for a while, while they do the pick up and then switch.  Take walking breaks to break up the raking repetitive motion. This will give those muscle patterns a chance to relax.
  5. Bend With Your Knees – When lifting leaves keep your back straight and bend with your knees and hips, not your back, when reaching down. The power for your lift comes from your buttocks and legs and abs. Exhale as you lift to decrease disc pressure.  Make the piles small to decrease the weight.
  6. Rake With the Wind – Let Mother Nature give you a hand if possible. Rake leaves with the wind, even if the spot in the yard is different from where you wanted to rake the leaves. Rake them on to a tarp and drag the tarp to your desired destination. 
  7. Use a Tarp – Leaves are lightweight and can easily be moved on a tarp. Rake the leaves onto the tarp and pull one end of the tarp to move the leaves to your desired location. Doing this can save your back constant bending over to pick up piles of leaves to put into a garbage bag or wheelbarrow.
  8. Drink Plenty of Water – Muscles need water to function optimally. When you maintain your body’s water levels during use, you allow your muscles to coordinate with each other properly and support your physical activity.
  9. Wear Good Shoes – Wear supportive shoes with good arch support and skid-resistant soles. Standing on your feet and raking all day can put a lot of strain on your feet and legs. Good foot and arch support can stop some of that strain from reaching your back and skid-resistant soles can minimize the risk of slipping on wet leaves and falling. 
  10. Consider a Leaf Blower ( or handsome lawn boy)  – There are some lightweight gas and electric leaf blowers on the market that are hand held or can be worn like a backpack. Blowing all the leaves into one large pile or onto a tarp can save time and lots of energy.
  11. Wear Gloves – Give your hands a break and wear gloves to prevent painful blisters.
  12. Take Frequent Breaks – Taking your time will make it less likely for injuries to occur. Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion can cause you to get sloppy with good posture and lifting techniques, setting you up for injury.
  13. AT THE END: Lay on your foam roller afterwards to encourage your spine to come back into its normal neutral posture !!!  Lay there for at least 10-15 minutes.

What can you do if you follow all of these tips and still wind up with low back pain?  ( besides having hired the handsome lawn boy?)

  • Heat and/or ice treatments.
  • Ibuprofen for pain control
  • Epson Salt bath
  • Massage
  • Deep  foam rolling on all the large muscles of the legs and upper back, using a foam roller or tennis balls
  • Propping pillows behind your back and under knees when resting to take pressure off of your lower back.

And when all else fails, see me for a private session to assess your problems, or come to class to work out the kinks.  Movement heals !