CINCINNATI—The holiday rush is on, but finding the perfect gift could be the least of your worries if you aren’t protecting your back as you maneuver through malls, wait in long lines and lift heavy packages.
Thomas Herrmann, EdD, assistant professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences’ rehabilitation sciences department, says there are many things you can do to prevent back pain during the holiday rush.
- Sacrifice style for comfort and protection.
Herrmann, a licensed physical therapist and athletic trainer, recommends wearing low or flat shoes with some cushioning in the heels and soles.
“High heels for women and hard-sole dress shoes for men may be stylish, but the changes in posture they cause and the increase in force transferred up the legs to the back make them undesirable companions on a day of prolonged walking and standing,” he says.
- Keep your movements simple.
“‘Tis the season for lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling,” Herrmann says.
While it’s not always possible to lift with perfect body posture, “it’s generally safer to bend, pull or push in only one direction at a time.”
“A bending motion alone is much easier on the back than bending and twisting simultaneously,” Herrmann says.
He says the same goes for lifting and advises to keep the item being lifted close to the body in order to minimize the force needed to control that amount of weight.
- Keep the postural muscles active.
Standing in long lines for the hottest electronics can be hard on the back.
“Think of muscles as more than just the things that move body parts,” Herrmann says. “Think of them as shock absorbers, but remember, they only provide this service when they’re on.”
Herrmann says when people stand for long periods, they tend to lock their knees and let their “trunk” sag.
“When standing in line at a backed-up check-out lane, think tall. Imagine a string from the top of your head to the ceiling gently pulling you upward,” he adds. “Elongate your trunk along that line and the major postural muscles in the abdomen, back and hips will automatically increase their activity. This lets the muscles take some of the load and spares the joints in the spine and pelvis from bearing the entire burden.”
“Swaying may be annoying,” says Herrmann, “but joints like it.”
Joints are designed to move and to accept “loading” and “unloading.”
“That’s how they stay nourished and healthy,” he adds.
But joints that are under a constant, unrelenting load can become irritated, achy and sore because the pressure causes a gradual change in the protective covering on the ends of the bones and overloads the tissues that hold the joints together.
“Simply shifting weight from side to side spares those surfaces and tissues from the adverse effects of constant pressure and reduces joint stress,” says Herrmann.
- Sit up straight and stay relaxed in the car during holiday traffic jams.
Slouching puts pressure on the back’s tissues and joints. Herrmann recommends scooting your hips back into the driver’s seat and sitting tall during long traffic jams.
He suggests attempting to touch the car’s roof liner with the top of your head and hold the position for a few seconds. He also recommends squeezing the hip muscles together and holding them there for a few seconds. He says to do the same with your shoulder blades.
To stay relaxed, Herrmann recommends taking deep, slow breaths using the diaphragm to inflate the lungs as completely as possible.
“Hold the maximum inflation for a few seconds then exhale very slowly,” he adds. “Attempt to get down to five, or even four, breathing cycles per minute.”
To learn more about back pain and relieving stress, visit www.netwellness.org, a collaborative health-information Web site staffed by Ohio physicians, nurses and allied health professionals.