Keeping Christmas Pain-Free

With less than two weeks to go until Christmas, you may be feeling a bit panicked: presents still to be bought, meals to be planned, arrangements to be made to fit in all the relatives. But can you ensure that the holidays are relaxing and pain-free once they start?

If you are a careful planner you may be expecting that everything will go smoothly, but make sure your planning includes some contingencies for the unexpected. If you tend to leave everything to the last minute and let nature take its course then you are probably expecting the unexpected. Whichever the case, make sure you’re prepared for anything Christmas might throw at you.

My top tips for dealing with the unexpected are:

  1. Make sure you have some camomile tea in the cupboard – it’s good for nausea and vomiting, and can help prevent a hangover if you’ve over-indulged.
  2. Schedule in some down-time where there is nothing planned so you can either relax or play catch-up on the cooking if you’ve got behind.
  3. Try to get some exercise every day. It will h elp you cope with any stress (be it in-laws, noisy grandchildren or burnt dinner).
  4. If you are prone to back pain, make sure you keep up any exercises you normally do to manage it and set aside time to stretch.
  5. If you can make time for meditation in the morning, this can help keep you calm and confident throughout the day.
  6. I always recommend a Christmas Day walk. Not only does it enable you to stretch your legs and get some oxygen into your lungs, but it gives you an appetite for dinner!

Did you know that back problems become more common over the festive season? You can really stress your back with the intensive shopping, marathon cooking sessions, compulsive playing of new computer games or sitting in front of the television for hours on end. And this is all made worse if there are family conflicts to deal with as well.

So here are a few tips for taking care of yourself this Christmas:

The pitfalls of shopping

Make several small shopping trips rather than one major trip or make frequent trips to the car to put your shopping in the boot. Take plenty of bags and balance the weight of shopping evenly between your two hands.

If standing in a queue try to keep your weight evenly balanced on both legs. Alternatively you can try shifting your weight from foot to foot. If you have a lot of shopping, don’t be shy – put it on the floor while you wait.

Christmas presents, tree & westie

Always bend your knees and not your back when lifting shopping into and out of the car. Avoid twisting while lifting as this really stresses your back. Pack heavier items nearer the tailgate of your boot. This avoids reaching over too far when putting them in or getting them out. Place frozen and chilled items together on the back seat of the car. This way you can get them out first and then take a break before bringing in the rest of the shopping.

The final wrap up

Many of us seem to leave the wrapping of presents until Christmas Eve. But if you don’t leave it till the last minute, you can avoid wrapping all in one go – instead wrap those presents in batches. Sit at the table rather than standing and bending over it, and at all costs avoid kneeling on the floor. This will protect your lower back, knees, neck, shoulders and upper back.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

We probably won’t get a white Christmas, but snow can come at any time until early April, so be prepared just in case.

If it snows or is just very cold, make sure you wrap up warm and wear appropriate footwear. Remember when shovelling snow, stand in a lunge position with one foot in front of the other so that you can lean into the shovel and bend from the knees, not the waist.

Allow plenty of time to get to where you’re going – it takes longer when it’s treacherous underfoot. If your balance isn’t the best, it is worth taking a walking pole with you if you go out in the snow and ice. You don’t want to spend the festive season nursing a fractured wrist!

Turkey back?

Do as much preparation as you can in the days before. Just make sure you have made space in your fridge to accommodate all those delicious dishes!

Sit to peel the vegetables. Don’t feel that you need to peel them; you throw away a lot of nutrients when you discard the peel, and you can save yourself a lot of work by simply scrubbing the veg.

If you’re having a turkey, bend using your knees when putting it in the oven and taking it out – if need you help, just ask!

Get family and friends to help bring in the dishes so you don’t have to do all the work.

The hot seat

The Christmas holidays seem to involve a lot of sitting – at the dinner table, on the couch and down the pub. Squidgy sofas are a major cause of back problems. Whether you’re watching TV or gaming, your back and neck may become casualties of sitting, which may lead to pain and stiffness.

As sitting is pretty much unavoidable at Christmas, ensure your chair is supportive and that you’re able to sit up with good posture. Avoid sitting with your legs tucked under, or lying down with your head turned to the side to watch the TV. Make sure you take regular breaks, getting up to move around and stretch. This can be an opportunity to make a pot of tea or get a glass of water.

Take the whole family and go for a walk every day. This could be anything from 30 minutes to five hours – it’s entirely up to you. The fresh air and exercise will make everyone happier!

If driving long distances in the car, try to take breaks every hour or so. Whether or not you are going inside for a drink or a snack, make sure you have a walk around the service station to stretch your legs.

Sorrel Pindar, Registered Osteopath & Director of Bedford Integrative Health Centre

Categories: Back health, Health and Wellbeing and low back pain.