It is the last two months of the year – holiday season – for many of us.  This usually entails hours of cooking, days of decorating, weeks of shopping.  These activities can be physically demanding and everyone of all ages needs to be careful not to develop new injuries or worsen ongoing pain. 

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In general, the best advice if you have severe pain is to consult a doctor and ask their advice for what activities you should avoid and what you can do safely. In addition, participating in exercise on a consistent weekly basis will also help prevent new injuries and exacerbate old ones.  Here are some tips to avoid pain and injuries during common holiday/winter season activities. 

When cooking in the kitchen for hours and hours, you have to focus on not aggravating your neck and back.  Hours of hunching over and looking down at counters can cause significant muscular and joint pain.  They key to help avoid this ergonomics.  Make sure that while cooking, cutting, and preparing, you are conscientious about keeping your spine in a straight position.  You can buy boards to elevate the cooking surface so your back, shoulders, and arms are in a comfortable position. Another alternative is to sit down on a comfortable stool or chair to take stress off your backs, hips, knees, ankles, and feet while you’re cooking for long periods to time.  Also, consider taking breaks every 30 minutes or so and stretch to prevent your muscles and joints from becoming stiff.

As you wander the miles of stores, shops, and malls in search of gifts and holiday bargains, remember to take care of your body otherwise you may experience “aches and pains” later that night.  One of the easiest ways, is to make sure you wear your most comfortable pair of shoes.  Walking requires harmony of the entire lower part of your body – back, hips, thigh, knees, ankle, and feet.  You can consult a pain management physician, podiatrist, physical therapist, experienced shoe salesman, if you don’t feel you’re waking optimally. When you are walking, breaks every 15-30 minutes also prevent you from overusing your muscles and joints and allow them to recover. And if you know you will be making multiple purchases and spending hours shopping, buy a small, foldable personal shopping cart if you can – transporting 10-20 pounds is much easier in a cart with wheels than on your shoulder or in your hands. 

When decorating around the house, remember once again to take breaks and use stable ladders/stools/etc to make sure you are not over extending your back to place those decorations in hard to reach corners or on the ceiling.  If you feel you are overexerting your back, you can use a back brace as well. In fact for many strenuous activities, most braces for your back, knees and elbows for example can help support your joints and assist your muscles, tendons and ligaments to avoid injury.  The key is to only utilize braces for 1-2 hours as extended use can weaken your muscles in the long-run.    

The end of the year is here and with it comes traditions and activities that we all love and cherish.  By following some simple advice, you can make it pain-free as well. 

By: Manan Patel, MD


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