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