by Tamer Issa, PT, DPT
Avoiding stress is the first thing that comes to mind, so getting out of town for a week or two would be a great idea. The holiday season can be a busy and hectic time for all of us, especially if you live in the DC Metro Area. The last thing you want to be dealing with this holiday season is an episode of back pain. Here are some simple tips to avoid back pain this month.
Gift-wrapping can be dangerous to your health. I repeat gift-wrapping can be dangerous to your health. If you are over 40 and have attempted a monster session of gift-wrapping on the floor the night before Christmas, you know what I mean. The problem is that you are spending too much time in a bad posture while you are bent over wrapping gifts. This isn’t great for your back muscles and puts more compression on your spine. First, avoid wrapping gifts on the floor. Find a table or a counter in your home and stand while your gift-wrapping. If you have to do your gift-wrapping on the floor out of habit or you’re a glutton for pain, sit on a stool instead. Whether you are sitting or standing, you need to be mindful of keeping your back straight and bend forward by hinging at your hips. Here are some other simple measures to keep in mind. Don’t save all your gift-wrapping for one monster session. Plan ahead and do small increments of gift-wrapping for 30 minutes at a time the week before Christmas. If you have to do it all at once, take 2-minute breaks every 20 minutes. Walk to the kitchen to drink some water or do some of your favorite gentle back stretches. You could always pay someone else to wrap it for you. I have to admit, I actually like wrapping my gifts for other people, it gets me in the spirit of the holidays.
Overeating and drinking too much over the holidays can definitely trigger an episode of back pain. Overindulging lends itself to feeling lethargic. Feeling lethargic leads to more sitting and less physical activity. Less physical activity can lead to deconditioned, tired back muscles and increased strain on your spine. I think we’ve all been there. Secondly, your nutrition may be an underlying contributing factor to your back pain. Some people have a sensitivity to sugar, gluten, milk, alcohol to name a few that may contribute to inflammation and nerve sensitivity that manifests as back pain. Being aware of how your body feels after you eat certain foods can help you be more aware of the relationship between nutrition and your body.
The holiday season can often severely knock your exercise routine right off the tracks. We are busier at work trying to get work done before taking time off. There are additional errands that come with the holiday season like decorating, shopping, planning, gift giving, card writing, and so on. All of which makes it harder and harder to squeeze in a workout routine that maintains a healthy back. If you can’t get your regular routine in, settle for mini exercise breaks. Finding short periods of time to move can do a lot to keep your back from flaring up. Do 5-10 minutes of your stretching routine after your shower, 1-2 of your core exercises, take a walk after sitting or driving a long drive to improve circulation and relax back muscles. Even taking 10 minutes before bed to stretch and unwind your back will do a lot of good too. Don’t let the holiday season totally derail your exercise routine.
People tend to spend too much time driving in their cars over the holidays. Whether it’s driving all over town searching for that perfect gift for someone or traveling visiting family and friends. This can obviously be a trigger for back pain. Most people don’t have the best sitting posture in the car. Your hips should be at the level of or slightly higher than your knees. If you have an electronic tilt feature on your car seat (these days most cars do), use it to tilt your seat forward and down raising the back of the seat up. Secondly, adjust the back of the seat so that you are not leaning too far back or leaning too far forward. It should feel like your chest is stacked on top of your pelvis and your head is stacked on top of your chest. Lastly, use a lumbar support to support the lower back. Most cars also have this built-in feature, but I find that even on the maximum setting it still may not be sufficient. You may need to add an additional lumbar support. I have some favorite recommendations for my clients.
Don’t let the stress of the holiday season leave you all knotted up. If you haven’t figured it out yet, muscles don’t respond well to excess physical and emotional stress. It makes them tight, sore and prone to injury. There are many things you can do in the next few weeks to prevent stress from wreaking havoc on your back. Let me count the ways. Take some deep belly breathing breaths while stuck in traffic. Avoid shopping at busy times. Let go of trying too hard to get the best deal or the perfect gift. Limit time around negative people and instead visit with friends and family that bring you joy. Get in a hot tub or take a relaxing hot bath. Book a massage session. Most of all is to be present and aware of how your body is feeling. This will allow you the opportunity to change the situation before the stress of it all ends up in your back.
I hope you found these simple ways to avoid back pain over the holiday season helpful. You have the control of preventing the possibility of a back problem by being more aware and trying some of these preventative measures. If you have questions, please ask in the comment box below. Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season.