Ah, the holidays – a time of joy, family, and... low back pain? You betcha. With all the hustle, bustle, and merriment, it's easy to overlook the toll it can take on your spine. The holidays can be hectic for low back pain!
Fear not, fellow holiday reveler! We've got your back (literally). Peppered with a sprinkle of humor (because laughter is always the best medicine!), and a dash of seasonal science to back them up these tips are sure to help you navigate the holiday season.
How To Prevent Low Back Pain During The Holidays
1. Sleigh Your Slouch
First things first, let's talk about posture, people! According to a 2018 study published in the journal, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, maintaining good posture can significantly reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal pain, including low back pain.
In the study, participants who were aware of their posture reported less shoulder and spine pain. Simply being aware of how we are sitting can make a significant difference!
Does Santa slouch in his sleigh? Never! Sitting tall and proud, Santa rules the reindeer and owns the night in order to get to all of the houses before daybreak.
So, whether you are hanging lights or wrapping your gifts, check your posture and make sure you have the right tools and set up to prevent pain.
2. Deck the Halls, Don't Sprain Your Spine
The Clark Griswold approach to holiday decorating (we're talking to you, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation fans) might be comically epic, but it's not going to do your back any favors.
A study published in 2022 in the International Journal Of Sports Physical Therapy looked at the importance of proper lifting techniques to prevent back injuries. The researchers found that "squat lifting" may be the optimal way to life for people with back pain problems.
What exactly is a "squat lift" you ask? Well squat lifting basically means lifting with your legs, and not your back. Alternatively you could simply delegate heavy lifting tasks and get your own army of elves. After all, nobody wants to spend New Year's in traction.
3. Santa's Not the Only One Who Needs a Break
Santa takes breaks on his global gift-giving spree, and so should you. A review published in the journal PLOS One suggests that taking short breaks to stretch and move around can significantly reduce the risk of developing back pain during prolonged periods of sitting or standing
While science says to avoid long periods of inactivity or resting after a back sprain there is a right time to rest. This generally means taking little breaks from your decorating; standing in line for that picture with Santa; or a brief break from shopping to stretch, do a little dance, and keep that blood flowing.
4. Let Go of the Grinch-Like Tension
Don't let holiday stress and tension turn you into the Grinch. A 2021 study published in the journal of Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine found that relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation can significantly reduce stress and alleviate musculoskeletal pain conditions like low back pain.
Channel some Silent Night soothing and practice some deep breathing exercises and meditations. Alternatively you can channel your inner Elf and try some uplifting songs! Afterall, "the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear"!
5. Holiday Feasts and Healthy Treats
While Buddy the Elf may live on a diet of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup, you'll probably want to take a more balanced approach to what you eat over the holidays.
Unfortunately the highly processed foods favored by Buddy have been shown to make chronic pain conditions like back pain worse. Processed foods are often quite inflammatory and inflammation is one of the underlying causes of low back pain.
A study in the journal, Nutrients, titled 'Effects of Nutritional Interventions in the Control of Musculoskeletal Pain: An Integrative Review' highlights the importance of a balanced diet in maintaining musculoskeletal health.
Diets that have been shown to improve musculoskeletal pain include:
Interestingly the researchers did not find any benefits with gluten-free diets or calorie-restricted diets.
Christmas cookies and challa may be everywhere but try to make sure that you are also getting your fruits and veggies wherever possible.
The study found that there was a "significant reduction in musculoskeletal pain was observed after the consumption of blueberry, strawberry, and passion fruit peel extract". Loading up on fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins are great ways to keep your muscles and spine in tip-top shape.
And remember, moderation is key. Sorry, Buddy.
6. The Gift of Low Impact Exercise
Low-impact activities like a gentle stroll through a winter wonderland (or your local park) can do wonders for your back.
According to a study in the journal Physical Therapy Science, engaging in regular low-impact exercise helps to strengthen the core muscles that support the spine, reducing the risk of chronic low back pain.
The researchers found that core strengthening exercises "assist in the alleviation of chronic low back pain". So with that said, you have our permission to leave the high-intensity workouts or the polar plunge for the New Year's resolution crowd, and opt for a serene nature walk instead.
While the cold weather might leave you less than inspired to workout or go for a walk, the endorphin boost that you will get should more than make up for the freezing temps.
Bonus - everyone's decorations and lights make a wintry walk quite wonderful! So grab your hot chocolate (and maybe family or the dog) and go and enjoy the magical lights that all your neighbors have worked so hard on!
7. ‘Tis the Season for Hydration
Water – it's not just for elves in Santa's workshop or for freezing into an ice skating rink. Water is an essential tool in the fight against low back pain.
Staying hydrated keeps your spinal discs plump and happy, reducing the risk of discomfort and pain. When our spinal discs are properly hydrated there is less friction and wear and tear on your vertebra which is another common cause of low back pain.
Studies have also shown that when we are not properly hydrated our perception of pain often increases and we feel pain more intensely.
As you can see, hydration affects our backs in many different ways and it is an essential component for maintaining spinal health. So, go on - channel your inner Elf and say "ho ho ho" to that H2O.
8. Avoid the Post-Holiday Shopping Spree
We get it, shopping is practically a sport during the holidays. But remember, bulging shopping bags can burden your back.
According to a study in the journal, Annals of Global Health, carrying heavy loads, especially over extended periods, can lead to increased pressure on the spine and potential back issues. The researchers found that there were significant "associations of increased load carrying exposures with low back pain (LBP) and related disability".
Instead of staggering under the weight of all those purchases you could opt for some more relaxed online shopping (hello, Cyber Monday!), or enlist some elves to help carry the load.
So there you have it - a jolly guide to keeping your low back pain at bay this holiday season, backed by some solid clinical evidence. Remember, the holidays are a good time to focus on things like balance, good posture, good health and a sprinkle of holiday magic.
Follow these tips and you'll be sashaying into the New Year pain-free and full of cheer.
Happy holidays from us all at LivaFortis!