Thousands of Americans sustain winter-related back injuries every year, including many injuries directly related to holiday activities. But there are often simple things that can be done to reduce injury risk and minimize or eliminate back pain.
Most people experience additional stress and busier schedules during the winter holiday season that can lead to back pain, or worsen existing back pain. Increased activity such as completing year-end work projects, traveling, holiday shopping, carrying heavy packages, prolonged work in the kitchen, and hanging indoor or outdoor decorations can all wreak havoc on your back. The CDC estimates, in fact, that 5,800 Americans go to emergency rooms every year due to injuries, including back injuries, sustained from holiday decorating-related falls.
Excess weight gained during the holidays can also place strain on the spine. According to one survey, 69% of Americans estimate that they gain up to eight pounds during the winter holiday season. Excess weight increases the likelihood of back injury, can aggravate existing injuries and can make it more difficult to recover.
Leading neurosurgeon and spine specialist William J. Sonstein, MD, FACS, of Neurological Surgery, P.C., has developed tips to help keep readers' backs safe and healthy during this season:
Minimize or Avoid Travel-Related Pain
•Wear comfortable shoes with good arch supports to help you walk long distances, and comfortable, loose-fitting clothes to help you stay comfortable throughout your trip.
•Give yourself extra time. When you rush, you are less aware of your body movements, which can cause stress and strain on your back.
•Don't overpack. Take two smaller bags rather than one heavier big suitcase.
•Be careful when lifting bags or luggage—bend at the knee, and don't try to lift with your back. Ask for help when necessary.
Keep Shopping Safe
•Shop during the off-peak hours to avoid having to stand on long lines and walk through crowded areas.
•Make several small trips, rather that one large trip, to avoid stress and fatigue.
•Distribute the weight of shopping bags evenly, and avoid carrying bags for too long. Remember to ask a store clerk for assistance with heavy or bulky items.
•Sit down and rest if you start to feel fatigued.
Take Care When Preparing Meals
•Prepare meals on a work surface that is most comfortable for you, or at elbow level.
•Stand on a cushioned mat or non-slip rug to avoid muscle fatigue and back ache.
•When taking heavy pans from the oven, lift from the knees, not the waist.
Decorate Your Home Safely
•Take your time, mind your posture, and watch your step as you bend, stoop and stretch to retrieve items from your basement, shed or attic. Don't lift heavy boxes alone; ask a family member or friend to help you.
•Use a sturdy stool or ladder for reaching high places.
Acute low back pain is the fifth most common reason for all physician visits in the U.S. Nine out of ten adults experience back pain at some point in their lives, and five out of ten working adults have back pain every year.
Dr. Sonstein is a partner in Neurological Surgery, P.C., a private practice of leading neurosurgeons, and Chief of Neurosurgery at North Shore-LIJ Hospital at Plainview, New York. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Neurosurgery. He
has a special interest in complex spine surgery and has extensive experience with a range of minimally invasive and open surgical techniques.
Neurological Surgery, P.C.