From the day we sit down for that hearty turkey meal to the night we pop bottles and ring in the new year, we’re in the midst of the holidays and all that comes with it. Overeating, overexertion, and just generally overdoing it are all problems that we run into, and the end result is usually pain. Sometimes it’s a standard headache, other times it’s a week on the couch because you shouldn’t have lifted that tree with your back. Take a moment and check out what can and can’t go wrong this month, and what you can do to prevent pain before it begins.
The problem: Long flights
It’s four days before Christmas and you’ve got a flight heading into Chicago that you have to deal with. You’ve packed your bags, hustled through the airport and dealt with security.
Lots of people have issues with lower back pain and sciatica, and these types of pain conditions flare up when they sit down for long spans of time.
For sciatica specifically, what happens is that the sciatic nerve gets pinched or tweaked for one of a number of reasons: herniated or bulging discs, spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome. Since the sciatic nerve provides sensation for your legs, it gives you the feeling that your leg is asleep or general weakness in that area.
Sitting for too long can put you in extended bouts of pain, making the problem very uncomfortable to deal with. What do you do?
If you’ve experienced bouts of sciatica before, it’s time to get it handled before you go on your trip. Many pain doctors offer treatment for sciatica, and there are lots of different options.
You could get epidural steroid injections, which involves injecting medication into the epidural space where the nerve sits. You could consider a deep tissue massage, which can help with the muscle spasms associated with the condition. Likewise, you could also try something like chiropractic care, physical therapy, or other more interventional approaches. No matter what you do, make sure it’s something so that you don’t suffer on your flight.
The problem: Gift shopping
Gift shopping can be jolly, but it can also be one of the most stressful parts of the holidays. From parking to navigating crowds to long lines to the stress of picking the perfect gift—all that tension is a recipe for pain and fatigue.
Simplify this ritual and maybe even squeeze more enjoyment out of it. One idea is to skip the mall all together and gift experiences, not things. Daredevils in your life might like a day spent racing cars, or perhaps a day of pampering at a spa. Check coupon sites like Groupon for local deals and ideas.
Shopping online is a great way to avoid the mall and make price comparisons easy. As a bonus, you can have gifts delivered to out-of-town friends and relatives without even going to the post office. Many e-commerce retailers offer gift wrapping and greeting card options, taking care of everything for you.
If you do hit the mall, try to go when it’s not crowded, perhaps during the week or first thing in the morning before the crowds thicken. This will make sure there are plenty of benches available for breaks.
The problem: Lifting heavy bags
You want to save a few bucks on your flight ($25 to check in a bag? Come on!), so you put everything into fairly heavy carry-on bags and huff through security. Suddenly, your back decides that enough is enough and puts you into so much pain that you don’t know how to cope with the problem. What do you do?
If this happens to you on a flight out, consider rescheduling your flight. Nothing is worse than suffering through a bumpy or long plane ride when all you want to do is lay prone on a hard surface. If you have to get to your destination, or it happened after you’ve touched down, consider your options. Many typical over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or ibuprofen can help with your problem, but sometimes that’s not enough. Ask the flight attendant if they can give you ice for the injury.
Once you land, consider acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage for deep pain, or go with physical therapy to help get treatment. Ultimately, seeing a pain doctor should be a pretty high priority, because there are a multitude of options depending on where the problem is in your back and why it happened. It could be something simple, or a sign of something more serious.
The problem: Lifting Christmas trees
Who’s going to get the Christmas tree? Well okay, it’s you, and there’s a mammoth lot right around the corner. You hop into your car (you know, the one that’s way too small to carry a 25-foot tree spruce), head to the lot and pick out one that looks less Charlie Brown and more 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
You get it home, try to huff it into the house yourself and right as you’re hoisting it to the sky your back gives out, and now you’ve got to figure out how to get a tree off of you.
This one is a simple preventative fix. Why? Because unlike hopping on a plane and having a back emergency spring up, you knew what you were doing that day. You knew you’d be lifting a big tree, so instead of flirting with injury, stretch first. Limbering up before exercise is something we all learned in the second grade.
Second, look into a back brace. There’s a reason why weightlifters and construction workers wear them — they work. Focus on bracing yourself as you lift, lift from your knees, and back off if it’s too much.
Finally, get some help. If you know you’re going to be hoisting a tree in the living room and it’s too heavy for you to manage realistically on your own, then ask a buddy to come by and give you a hand. It makes sense to plan ahead, so think before you start trying to muscle your way into a hernia.
The problem: Hanging Christmas lights
You’ve got company coming over from out of town, and you need to get the place presentable before they start showing up. Since your cousin always has pretty cool Christmas lights, you decide you want to one-up him by making your house a beacon for low-flying satellites.
After buying out the local Target’s allotment of string lights, you grab yourself a ladder and start stapling things together. What could go wrong, right?
Ladder safety is important, but it’s also pretty simple. Make sure you’re wearing the right clothing. Slip-resistant shoes, well-fitting clothing, and maybe textured even gloves depending on the temperature.
Always pick the right type of ladder for the job as well. Something that’s non-conductive is great when working with electricity, and make sure that ladder is in good shape as well. Plus, always put your ladder in a solid spot and have a friend or neighbor holding it at the base. Having a spotter nearby will make sure that the ladder doesn’t slip, and you stay away from the hospital.
The problem: Stress
The holidays generally bring much good cheer, but they can also bring a mega-dose of stress. Between cooking big meals, shopping for groceries, preparing for guests or traveling, and navigating the agonizing ritual of buying gifts—it can all become a little much. For pain patients, minimizing stress during this time of year is important for not only making things more fun, but also reducing pain.
This is one of the most major causes of pain, so we’ve given even more examples for preventing it here.
1. Take ten minutes
Incorporating pauses into your day is the secret to creating more peace and joy during the holidays, increasing the chance they’ll actually feel merry and bright.
Taking ten minutes any time you feel stressed to pause, breathe, or lay down on the couch will help you cultivate calm and dissipate any mounting tension.
If you’d like to try meditating, the holidays are a perfect time to start. Try setting aside just ten minutes in the morning or before you go to bed to sit in a quiet room and focus on your breath. Benefits of meditation range from reduced stress and anxiety to more joy and less pain.
Amid all the cookie baking and turkey eating, exercise can fall by the wayside. Even if a bathing-suit-ready body isn’t on your holiday wish list, taking 30 minutes each day—or at least a few times a week—to exercise can pay dividends when it comes to managing stress and pain.
Create more fun by adding sparkle and cheer into the activity. Bundle up with a warm jacket, pour a thermos of anti-inflammatory ginger or green tea, and walk around your neighborhood to check out the lights. You could also visit a local light show that requires walking. That’s not a daily activity, but rather a special one to spice up your holiday fitness routine and keep things fresh.
Another option is to embrace togetherness and gather the family ‘round the Wii or other gaming system for a dance party or tennis match. No Wii? No problem. Put on your favorite holiday tunes and get your boogie on.
3. Reduce holiday meal stress
Release the need to have a perfect gourmet meal and cook five batches of cookies! Whatever you make will be delicious. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. If you cook, feel extra justified in asking others to clean up.
Another way of simplifying cooking includes ordering pre-made food from local restaurants or grocery stores. You could even cook some dishes and order others to reduce the total amount of kitchen time while still enjoying the magic of a homemade meal.
If guests are coming, you might ask them to bring a side dish, or at the very least help with preparations. Cleaning as you go is a wonderful way to reduce the oh-my-gosh factor when the kitchen looks destroyed after hours of dirtying dishes. Consider assigning a person to dish duty while others cook to divide the effort and make it easier for everyone.
Don’t forget to turn on happy holiday music or other fun tunes to inject cheer into the event!
4. Spoil yourself
There’s nothing wrong with shopping for yourself while buying for others! Give yourself the gift of relaxation. A day spent reducing tension can do wonders to alleviate pain.
You might sneak away for a day and hit the spa, getting a massage and maybe taking a yoga class. Or hire someone to clean your house so you have one less thing to do. If you’re on a budget, consider taking in a movie—make it a matinee or a dollar theater flick to save even more money. Spending a few hours whisked into another world is an underrated, often-forgotten stress reliever.
With all the good deals around, if there’s something you need that would make life easier, consider buying it. Ideas include heating pads for your neck, adaptive equipment like braces for sports, or even special gardening tools like knee pads so you have them on hand when spring comes.
5. Focus on what matters
Ultimately the holidays are about spending time with family, rejoicing in the end of another year while anticipating the new one, and taking time away from work to relax and have fun.
Carve out time to relax with family, watch holiday movies, or sit in front of the fireplace with hot beverages. Create holiday traditions that involve little more than enjoying each other’s company.
With all the other tips for simplifying tasks, it should be easy to erase some items off the to-do list and make time to create memories and cherish the season.
Plan for less pain this holiday season
We all want to keep safe during the holidays, and there’s no reason we can’t if we just take a few steps to be smart before we do things. Make sure to always address your pain issues before you start a new project, and if it comes on from out of nowhere, take care of yourself.
There’s no reason to spend the holidays laying on the couch unless you want to.
How can you protect yourself from pain during the holidays?