The holiday season is upon us again, and while joy and happiness abound, there are potential “Grinches” hiding everywhere in the form of potential accidents. From Hanukkah, (December 12 – 20), to Christmas (December 25), to Kwanzaa (December 26 – January 1) and finally New Year’s Day, there are family gatherings and an almost daily series of holiday parties, some of which can be dangerous to one’s health.

The spine and joint physicians participating in the referral line at Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center wish you joyous season’s greetings. Dr. Blake Staub, a neurosurgeon and participating physician in the referral line at Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center has four tips to help you have a healthy and happy holiday season.

#1 Travel Light and Stretch

Since most people no longer live in the cities where they were born, the holiday season has become a time when they return “home” to see relatives and childhood friends. In many cases, this can involve a long plane, train or automobile ride, and these lengthy trips can wreak havoc on the travelers’ spine and lower extremities.

Dr. Blake Staub specializes in spine conditions and treatments and he has some travel tips for anyone trying to make it home for the holidays.

“The most common cause of back pain from travel is the result of lifting heavy luggage improperly,” he said. “I suggest packing light for starters!

“We know that back strain often occurs near the end of one’s range of motion when lifting a heavy item. I recommend moving slowly when lifting a heavy piece of luggage and dividing the lift into smaller parts. For example, when lifting a bag into an overhead bin, it can first be lifted to the top of the seat, then into the bin in a separate motion. By breaking this action up, there is less likelihood of sudden jerks that can cause painful strains.

“Other travel tips include supporting one’s feet, especially on a long plane trip. If the plane seat is too high, I suggest trying to rest one’s feet on a footrest or books to keep the knees at a right angle and avoid stressing the low back. If driving, resting both feet on the floor provides more support for your lower back than if one foot is on the gas, so you may consider using cruise control for longer drives.”

Here are a few more quick suggestions for avoiding back pain when traveling:

  • Bring your own lumbar support pillow to protect your lower back.
  • Watch your posture. Slouching over a period of several hours can result in back pain.
  • Get up and move around every hour or so.
  • Stretch your hamstrings, legs, and hips on an hourly basis

#2 Remember the ABCs of Lifting Heavy Objects

Men and women who lift heavy objects for a living – movers, baggage handlers and parents of college kids – know that most boxes are heavier than they look. During the holidays, taking those gifts from the car and placing them under the tree may seem simple, but this action can result in a back sprain that can put a damper on the celebration.

“I tell my patients that lifting any object, whether it appears heavy or not, can cause back strain,” said Dr. Staub.

“The best way to lift is to remember the ‘ABCs.’

  1. Avoid twisting the lower back while lifting. Instead, pivot with your feet.
  2. Bend at the knees, and use leg muscles rather than back muscles to lift the object.
  3. Carry heavy objects as close to your body as possible.
  4. Distribute weight evenly on each side of the body.”

#3 For Holiday Food and Drink Consumption: Everything in Moderation

For almost everyone, an important part of celebrating the holidays involves consuming lots of high-calorie food and beverages. While there is nothing wrong with eating those cookies and drinking that holiday punch at the Christmas parties, the post-holiday “hangover” can be painful for one’s neck and back when those excess pounds are added to the body.

#4 Be Careful Playing with New Toys

It is very tempting for parents and grandparents to join the youngsters in the family in playing with their new holiday gifts. A visit to any hospital emergency room on the days immediately following the time when gifts are opened will suggest just how dangerous older adults playing with children’s toys can be!

“Tossing a new football or basketball around with the kids is great exercise for the adult and fun for the children,” said Dr. Staub. “However, if a parent or grandparent decides to hop on a new bicycle, jump on a hoverboard, strap on rollerblades or attempt flips on the trampoline that Santa just delivered he/she could be buying a ticket for a holiday trip to the hospital ER or urgent care facility.”

“Gifts such as smartphones, laptops, e-readers and other hand-held digital devices can cause recipients to spend a great deal of time slouched over the new gadget. This can result in ‘text neck and cause back pain among both adults and kids. The best approach to avoiding this condition is for parents to set time limits for playing with the new toys for both their children AND themselves.”

If holiday activities have caused pain in your back or joints, and this persists for more than two weeks, contact us at the Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center referral line. We make finding a state-of-the-art spine and orthopedic treatment simple.

Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of THSOC.

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