Be Good to Your Back This Holiday

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With Christmas and New Years fast approaching, many of us have extensive to-do lists for the week ahead. From holiday shopping to cooking and cleaning for guests, wrapping presents and traveling to see friends and family, it's simply a very busy time of year. So perhaps it's not surprising that the holidays are also a prime time for back pain, with physicians reporting a seasonal uptick in patients seeking help for an acute or chronic issue.

To help make sure you're in a festive mood when Santa strikes, here are a few commonsense pieces of advice to keep in mind while you're getting ready to ring in the New Year.

Stay active stay warm.

As temperatures decrease heading into the holidays (or eventually!), your chances of suffering a back strain or sprain rise accordingly because your muscles become tighter and less flexible with the cold. Meanwhile, fewer hours of sunlight coupled with your busy schedule can make it tough to engage in your normal exercise routine, which again puts you in line for back injuries and pain.

Our advice is to not underestimate the importance of warm clothing for safeguarding your spine. Wear layers so that you can stay comfortable when you're physically active, and do your best to stick to your normal exercise routine through the holidays. Pay special attention to thoroughly stretching and warming your muscles prior to every workout, and keep up your core strength and stability through targeted exercises.  For more information on the connection between cold weather and back pain, plus excellent suggestions for indoor exercises you might consider during winter, see our recent blog post.

Practice proper bending, lifting and twisting techniques.

Everyone knows how easy it is to hurt yourself when you're stringing lights on the house, carrying heavy packages to the car, wrapping presents and reaching up to trim the Christmas tree. Your best defense against back pain at such times is knowing and using proper bending, lifting and twisting techniques. Always practice good body mechanics by lifting with your legs rather than your back, and keeping heavier loads as close to your body as possible instead of holding them with your arms fully extended.

When you find yourself up a stepladder hanging holiday decorations, practice commonsense fall prevention like wearing the proper shoes and having someone there to steady you; the fact is that falls are the No. 1 cause of back injuries in adults. You should also ask for help lifting heavy packages into and out of the car, and be careful to properly distribute the weight of your new purchases evenly across your body when you're shopping. Finally, try wrapping presents on a countertop this year rather than bending over them on the floor your back will thank you later.

Heres a quick video that reminds you about the proper lifting technique for lighter objects, and here's one that focuses on the right technique for lifting heavier objects.

If you do experience a back strain, be sure to treat it promptly so as to avoid further injury our recent blog on this subject tells you how. And if your pain persists or seems indicative of something more serious, be sure to consult a spine specialist like Dr. Chetan Patel at the Spine Health Institute for expert evaluation and care.

Tackle vacuuming and other household chores with the proper caution.

Vigorous house cleaning is par for the course when you have company coming for the holidays. But the repetitive movements involved in vacuuming, mopping floors and other household chores can easily bring on back pain. View our Back to Basics video on proper vacuuming technique and read up on healthy ways to perform other cleaning tasks here.

Take time out to relax and de-stress.

Understanding that holiday stress can wreak havoc on your neck and back muscles, be sure to take time out from your busy schedule to rest, relax, go for a walk or otherwise wind down after a long day of shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking and cleaning. Do your best to maintain your normal bedtime, and get enough sleep so that you can avoid fatigue and depression that can lead to back pain. If you have trouble finding a comfortable sleeping position because of an existing back problem, this quick video may help.

Travel smart with these spine-safe driving and flying tips.

Whether you're driving a long distance or flying the friendly skies to visit relatives this season, there are several precautions you can take to minimize the chances of your back pain flaring up before you reach your destination. Heres a quick video that shows you the proper way to enter and exit your vehicle without injury; in addition, take a look at our blog from this summer on avoiding back pain during road trips. We also have some great advice for flyers who want to avoid backaches.

Cook with care, and eDisable rich-text at responsibly.

Tis the season for overeating and weight gain, and neither is good for your back. Not only do those excess pounds put more strain on your spine, but consuming a diet that's high in sweets and saturated fats robs your body of the nutrition it needs for strong bones and muscles. This Christmas, steer clear of those high-calorie foods, and avoid excessive use of caffeine or alcohol. Also remember that staying hydrated is good for your spine because of the high moisture content of your intervertebral disks.

Separately, an often-overlooked cause of back pain over the holidays is all that work that's being done over the kitchen sink. The awkward posture you assume while slicing and dicing those carrots, peeling potatoes, washing vegetables and carrying out other meal preparations can leave you in a lot of pain, and just standing on the hard kitchen floor for long periods can spur back issues.

One suggestion for reducing the incidence of problems is to stand on a padded mat or rug while you work, which will reduce the pressure on your spine and potentially lessen your chance of slips and falls. You might also try carrying out certain jobs (like cutting veggies) while seated at the kitchen counter, or try this ergonomically correct technique for mitigating back pain while cooking.

Happy Holidays from everyone at the Spine Health Institute! We hope the above information and links help you avoid unnecessary back and neck pain while spending time with family this season. Remember that our multidisciplinary medical team, led by Chetan Patel, MD, is here to help with advanced diagnostics and a comprehensive array of nonsurgical and minimally invasive treatment options. Contact our patient care coordinator at Call866-986-7497 or click on the Book Online button at the top of this page.

References
Staying Pain Free During the Holidays (n.d.). Retrieved from PainFreeNYC.com: http://www.painfreenyc.com/staying-pain-free-during-the-holidays/
Avoid Back Pain During the Holidays (12/19/2014). Retrieved from TheBetterWayBack.com:  http://www.thebetterwayback.org/the-back-beat-blog/avoid-back-pain-during-the-holidays

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