Take a walk
Meditate/do deep breathing
Get a good night’s rest
Spend time with friends
Eat something delicious (and healthy)
Take a relaxing bath
Do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise
The holidays can be tough on your body, your mind, and your finances. As much as we look forward to the holidays and the excitement that they bring, statistics show that the holiday season can actually be a very stressful time for many of us.
What's more, all that stress can wreak havoc on your back with research showing that high stress levels are directly linked to an increase in low back pain.
Interesting Holiday Stress Statistics:
69% of people feel that they have a “lack of time” over the holiday season
69% of people feel like they have a “lack of money”
51% feel pressured to “give or get gifts”
38% of people feel that their stress levels increase over the holidays
77% of people have a hard time relaxing over the holidays
How To De-Stress At Christmas
So what can you do to hang on to that “holiday magic” and not become a grumpy Grinch?
The good news is that with just a few simple steps you can take your festive season from “Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Miracle on 34th Street’. These tried and trusted treatments can put both your mind, and your back, at ease so that you can feel rested and ready to enjoy this special time with your friends and family. Whether you try just one tip, or whether you try them all, you won’t regret taking a little time for yourself this year and finding a little ‘mas’ in Christmas.
8 Helpful Holiday Tips To Care For Your Back
1. Take A Walk
Walking is a great way to stretch out your back muscles, improve the circulation of blood flow to your muscles, and help calm your mind. We have all heard about the benefits of getting outdoors, even if it is just for 30 minutes.
If you have a house full of extended family members, going for a walk can be a great way for everyone to hang out and use up some of that energy (think kids being able to run around without you worrying they will destroy your house). It is also a great opportunity for you to get some peace and quiet if you just need to get away from the noise and reset for a bit.
When it comes to low back pain, the science is sound around how this activity can help manage and prevent many chronic health conditions. In one study, a group of low back pain sufferers participated in 10 minutes of walking at a self-selected speed. The researchers found that after the walk, the participants showed significant reductions in pain levels.
2. Meditate/ Deep Breathing
Mindfulness is a type of therapy where people focus their awareness on the present moment and just accept any feelings or thoughts that arise in that moment. This treatment is used to help reduce anxiety around low back pain, and helps people to focus more on the moment and less on their pain. Studies have found that practicing mindfulness has better outcomes for low back pain patients than standard care.
If mindfulness feels a little bit out of your comfort zone, you might try focusing on deep breathing instead. Research has found a direct link between poor core stability and chronic, nonspecific low back pain. One one the theories supporting this ink is that poor core stability can alter core muscle activation patterns, including breathing patterns and diaphragm mechanics.
A review of clinical studies that have looked at the effects of deep breathing on back pain found that those who participated in deep breathing programs with sessions 2-3 times per week for 4-8 weeks, experienced improvements in “low back pain” or “quality of life”. The researchers suggested that based on these results, “athletic trainers and physical therapists caring for patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain should consider the inclusion of breathing exercises for the treatment of back pain”.
3. Get Some Good Sleep
Sleep is one of the most underrated treatments for low back pain. It is also a huge contributor to low back pain. Research has found that chronic low back pain sufferers who don’t get good quality sleep have more pain, worse physical function, and increased pain catastrophizing. Sleep quality can also have a negative impact on mood and energy levels throughout the day causing people to be more negative and focus more on their pain.
Setting up your bedroom to optimize your sleep is a great place to start. Finding a mattress that is supportive enough, but not too firm (check out our blog on how to pick the perfect mattress) can give your back the boost it needs to feel fresh and flexible the next day. Black out curtains, a cool room, and no screens an hour before bed are all great sleep hygiene tips for a supreme slumber.
For most people, sadly, back pain is no laughing matter. In fact it can be quite the opposite. Pain and depression are often intermingled into an endless loop where it can be hard to know which one came first.
Depression has been linked to increases in feelings of pain and can make it hard to exercise regularly leading to poor health conditions. On the other hand, low back pain sufferers often start to feel depressed because the pain they are experiencing makes it hard to engage in regular activities and they start to feel sad and lonely.
Chronic pain can also cause issues like low self-esteem. This can be due to financial issues or disability concerns, as well as missing out on social activities and not being able to participate in favorite hobbies and pastimes.
Interestingly enough, researchers have looked at the effects that laughter can have on the body and on the mind. It has long been accepted that laughter can have positive psychological effects on us, leading to improved mood, less depression, reduced anxiety and lower stress levels. Now, we are starting to see evidence that laughter can also have positive physiological benefits.
When people engage in what the experts call, ‘spontaneous laughter’ or ‘genuine laughter’ stress hormones like cortisol have been found to decrease. In one study, researchers found that watching an hour-long humor video decreased cortisol levels from 240 to 90.
Not only does laughter seem to lower our stress levels, but it can also help increase our pain tolerance levels with some subjects having increased pain tolerance simply after watching a funny film.
5. Spend Time With Friends
As we mentioned above, when you suffer from low back pain it can make daily activities, and social engagements feel like an impossible task. When it comes to managing low back pain, many healthcare professionals are choosing to follow the biopsychosocial model of treatment. What this means is that people are starting to recognize that the mind and the body are connected, and that our environment can have a major impact on our health.
It can be easy to view back pain as simply, well, pain. Medications may be recommended to treat the pain, but this doesn’t necessarily address the underlying problems that caused the pain or that perpetuate the pain. Our bodies are complex and it is very limiting to just treat symptoms and not look at what might have caused those symptoms.
One part of the biopsychosocial model of pain considers the social component of this chronic condition. The social component is vital to patients and their experience of lower back pain but it is often overlooked when it comes to treatment programs. Understanding the social factors that a person is dealing with can play a major role in understanding the individual's full experience as well as guiding how their rehabilitation program is constructed.
A 2017 study published in the journal, Pain Medicine, looked at the physical, psychological, and social impacts of lower back pain. Many of the study participants talked about how much low back pain restricted their social life, as well as their relationships with family and friends.
Some participants mentioned how ‘sometimes, pain forced them to avoid certain settings and activities, causing them to miss out on important social functions’. Isolation can lead to more depression and increased feelings of pain. Finding ways to still be able to spend time with friends and family is an important part of the recovery process and can help reduce the time to heal.
While you might feel like you should be standing over a hot stove making a meal for people, keeping things simple and ordering take out instead can be just as special and not as physically demanding. That way you get to spend time with those that you love instead of isolating yourself in the kitchen or straining your back so that you end up spending the next day having to rest. Take a walk, play some games, watch a favorite movie. The holidays are about family, not just food. Grandma’s famous pie recipe can wait for next year.
6. Eat Something Delicious
Speaking of food…..
Food often plays a major role in holiday traditions. While Thanksgiving generally conjures up images of giant roast turkeys (or fried ones, if that’s more your style) and steaming apple pies, your Thanksgiving feast could sneak up on you later - and not just in terms of a few extra inches on your waistline.
Diet plays a major role in how we experience chronic pain and can increase levels of inflammation in our bodies. Diet-driven changes in the neurotransmitters in our gut can lead to changes in the neurotransmitters in our brains affecting the development of chronic pain.
Studies have found that people who have chronic spinal pain often eat significantly less protein, more saturated fat, and more added sugar than those who don’t have chronic spinal pain.
Even when researchers compared the total number of calories and made sure that they were the same between the two groups, those with chronic spinal pain tended to have significantly poorer diet quality scores.
So when it comes to your Thanksgiving feast, loading up on fresh cranberries (that happen to be loaded with inflammation-fighting antioxidants) and eating some good lean turkey to up your protein levels can have a positive effect on your lower back pain. Swap heavier sugar pies for pumpkin or blueberry and get the benefits of these great fruits to help your back feel better in the coming days and weeks.
7. Take A Relaxing Bath
There is an interesting debate on shower vs bath, with around 57% of people surveyed preferring a shower to a bath. Many people feel like they don’t have enough time to bath, while others think that a shower will use less water.
Unilever did some digging and found that those who shower actually underestimate how long they spend in the shower and often use just as much water as those who bath. Fortunately, when it comes to low back pain it doesn’t really matter how you like to get clean, as long as you spend some good time soaking and heating up those tense back muscles.
Current clinical guidelines recommend the use of non-pharmacological treatments like heat therapy. Heat therapy has been used for centuries to relieve pain and soothe aching muscles. Heat therapy can be found in many forms these days, ranging from heat lamps to heating pads, hot wraps, or a steaming bath.
Taking a hot bath is a great way to reduce muscle stiffness, increase blood flow to the affected muscles, and relieve your pain. Using low-level heat therapy, like the heat from a bath or shower, activates the temperature-sensitive nerve endings in your body called thermoreceptors. These thermoreceptors then activate the nerve endings that detect changes in tissue pressure and movement which, when activated, block the transmission of pain signals to the spinal cord and the brain.
Heat therapy is not only a cost effective way to help manage low back pain, but it can also have positive mental effects. Taking time out of your hectic holiday schedule to soak in your tub and have some well-deserved “me time” can give you time to reflect on the positive things that are happening around you, and help you keep perspective on what is important. Plus its a great way to use up some of the soaps that your great aunt keeps giving you for your birthday!
8. Do A Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise
Relaxation is another type of non-pharmacological treatment that is growing in popularity for helping to reduce pain. When we feel relaxed we often feel a general sense of calmness and wellbeing which helps our muscles enter into a relaxed state.
So much of our day is spent rushing around and being in attack mode. Our defense systems are on the alert and cortisol runs high - especially when we are dealing with holiday stress. Relaxation decreases the activity of our nervous system and tells the body that it doesn't have to be stressed.
From a physical perspective, the practice of relaxation techniques has been associated with many bodily benefits like lower blood pressure, slower, calmer breathing, lower heart rate levels, and reduced muscle tension. Relaxation has also been shown to help lower levels of inflammation in the body which can help reduce chronic pain conditions like low back pain.
Some examples of relaxation techniques include:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction)
One of the best things about relaxation as a treatment for low back pain is that most of the treatments are free, and aren't known to cause any type of side effects. These are two of the reasons why relaxation is becoming a very popular treatment for chronic pain, and the evidence is there to support its effectiveness.
The holidays are a magical time of year. They often signal the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, filled with new opportunities and memories to be made. It is a time of year where we get to connect with loved ones and take some time to reflect.
Over the years it seems as if the commercial side of things has taken over. Add the effects of social media to the business side of things and it's no wonder things have gotten out of control. Our Instagram feeds are filled with families celebrating around perfectly trimmed trees, elaborate table-scapes and dazzlingly decorated homes. It can be hard to remember that all of this "perfection" has often been painstakingly curated and required days of work.
What matters this year is YOU. Your family wants YOU. Not a perfect tree. Not thousands of gifts (although who would say no - just kidding!). Your presence this holiday season truly is your present. Happy holidays.