Don’t Let the Holidays Be a Pain in the Neck – or Back

Stress - 1HYANNIS – Feeling busy? If you’re facing days filled with shopping, wrapping, traveling and cooking, you may start feeling a little bit Grinch-like. But at least you can get through the season without a lot of physical stress.

“For shopping and other holiday activities, the best thing you can do is prepare,” said Stephanie Soares, DPT, a physical therapist with Cape Cod Hospital Rehabilitation Services.

Headed out for a big day of gift hunting? Soares said the most important thing to do is wear comfortable shoes for walking. Leave those stylish high heels at home.

“Bring a handbag that’s not too big and doesn’t weigh too much. Just being the essentials with you,” she said. “Be sure to take a break every 45 minutes or so. That will help you feel better and make your shopping more enjoyable.”

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends treating holiday shopping as an athletic event.

“Our bodies have the capacity to do a little more than we normally do, but our bodies do not adapt very well to doing a lot more than we normally do.”Scott Bautch of ACA’s Council on Occupational Health says on the ACA web site. “Since the added demands of this season can stress the capacity of our bodies, we need to do everything we can to help ourselves. Eat right, drink plenty of water, stretch, exercise and take a few minutes to slow down and reflect on what the season is all about.”

Once you’re done with the shopping, it’s time to wrap the gifts, but you also should pace yourself with this task.

“Try not to do a ton of it at the same time, or you might strain your back,” said Soares. “Change positions every few items, switching between sitting and standing.”

If your plans include a long trip over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s (or anyone’s) house, Soares advises taking frequent breaks to get out and stretch or walk around.

“Consider buying a lumbar support cushion for your car,” she said. “Be sure to adjust your seat position. The distance from the driver’s wheel should be comfortable and not cramped.”

If you’re doing a lot of baking, the American Physical Therapy Association(APTA) offers these tips:

  • Work on a padded surface. If you have tile, vinyl, or wood flooring, consider purchasing an inexpensive area rug that has grippers on the back to keep the rug from moving and you from slipping or tripping. Standing long periods on a hard surface can lead to muscle fatigue and back ache.
  • Use good lifting mechanics when retrieving small kitchen appliances from lower shelves or drawers. Kneel down if necessary and keep the object close to your body.
  • Be careful when bending to take items in and out of a conventional stove.
  • Frequently perform gentle movement exercises to keep the muscles in your neck and shoulders loose.

“The added demands of the holidays stresses the body, which may increase the risk of injuries related to the extra activities,” says APTA spokesperson and physical therapist E. Anne Reicherter in an online press release. “Using proper body mechanics can help prevent muscle and joint discomfort this holiday season.”

If you do overdo it and you’re feeling stiff or achy the next day, take it easy but keep moving, advises Soares. “Some gentle stretching is helpful,” she said. “If it lasts more than a few days, I’d recommend getting it checked out.

“The big takeaway message is to plan ahead. If you properly prepare, you can avoid a lot of the physical stresses of the holidays.”

By BILL O’NEILL, OneCape Health News

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