Holiday injuries can ruin your fun

The busy holiday season is already upon us.  And if you are celebrating the season or hosting visitors, “the most wonderful time of the year” may leave you overwhelmed with additional chores — house cleaning, seasonal decorating, cooking, and shopping.

Unfortunately, many of these holiday tasks pose physical risks that lead to holiday injuries — overworked muscles, strained joints, and back pain.  In fact, a 2019 Survey found that 20% of respondents reported injuries while setting up their Christmas tree. Who knew that holiday decorating could be so hazardous?

While common holiday injuries heal in a few days, they can hamper your daily life activities and work. And in a season to be jolly, what tasks pose an injury risk, and how can you avoid a holiday mishap?


Common holiday hazards

Cleaning your home for visitors.  When you expect holiday visitors, it’s normal to undertake a thorough cleaning of your home. However, the process of cleaning areas that are normally overlooked may require climbing, bending, and all manner of physical contortion. Moreover, moving and reorganizing stacks of clutter (to which you have turned a blind eye) can place you in a high-risk category for a holiday injury!

Putting up and trimming the tree.  For many people, setting up and decorating the Christmas tree is one of the highlights of December.  This often necessitates rearranging a room and moving heavy furniture. And once the room is reorganized, it’s time to lug the cumbersome Christmas tree and boxes of ornaments from hard-to-reach storage spaces. Finally, decorating the tree may involve repeated bending into the boxes of decorations set on the floor.  These activities can place significant strain on your back.

Decorating the house exterior.  In an effort to spread more Christmas cheer, why not decorate your house exterior with strings of lights, strands of garland, and oversized wreaths?  But installing these decorations requires the skills of a circus acrobat.  Without good balance, these tasks can result in an assortment of holiday injuries.

Christmas shopping.  Christmas is a time to express gratitude with gifts and shared meals. But with a jam-packed social calendar, you may find yourself in a shopping frenzy. This is the time of year when an extra two arms and a personal valet would come in handy!

If your shopping sprees are intense, you are probably lifting weighted sacks and containers in a repetitive manner.  You may be surprised by the number of times you lift your store purchases from the time they leave the shelf until they are wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree!  Repetitive arm and shoulder movement — especially when holding weight-bearing boxes and bags — can place strain on these parts of your body. Who wants to cook Christmas dinner with a rotator cuff tear?


Six tips to help avoid holiday injuries

Most holiday injuries occur in the lower back, shoulders, and arms. In general, this is due to bending and lifting in a repetitive manner and is exacerbated when you find yourself unbalanced or unsteady.  Too, failing to make use of your legs and core muscles to support your back and upper body can increase your risk of a holiday injury.  To avoid unnecessary pain and discomfort at Christmas, reduce your risk of holiday injuries with these six tips.

1 | Recognize that holiday tasks can result in injuries.  If you have been less active for an extended amount of time leading up to the holidays, then use caution when lifting and bending.

2 | Pace yourself.  Plan ahead and schedule your activities so that you are not in a rush.

3 | Share the load with others. Ask for assistance – especially when moving heavy objects. And use safe techniques to move furniture, such as sliding, dolly-toting, or lifting items with the strength of your legs.

4 | Be aware of your movement and your path.  When picking up the Christmas tree and boxes of decorations, (a) plan the move and clear your pathway, and (b) lift safely, avoid twisting and remember to bend at the knees and hips.

5 | Avoid repeated bending.   When decorating a tree and your home, lift the boxes to a higher point (such as the lounge or a table) so that you refrain from repeated bending.

6 | Use cleaning equipment that is adjustable. Invest in equipment, such as dusters with telescopic handles, to reach awkward spaces.


Exercises to prevent holiday injuries

Keeping your lower back and shoulders strong helps prevent holiday injuries. Exercises that will help protect your lower back are:


Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Tighten your buttock muscles and lift your hips high off the floor. 

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart and your arms by your sides.  
  2. Tighten your buttock muscles and lift your hips up off the floor. Push through your heels and keep your hips high and level throughout the movement.  
  3. Hold this position then lower your hips and buttocks onto the floor to the starting position. 
  4. Repeat 10 times


Back extension 

Lie face down and hands beneath each shoulder, straighten both arms to lift your chest off the floor keeping your hips on the floor. If you experience pain in your lower back in this position, place a pillow under your hips.  

  1. Lie on the floor face down with your arms bent, elbows by your sides and with your palms pressing into the floor under your shoulders. 
  2. Raise your chest off the floor by straightening your elbows, pushing your upper body upwards, lengthening through your spine as far as comfortable. 
  3. Keep your head and neck in line while keeping your hips and legs on the floor.  
  4. Lower your chest by bending your arms to return to the starting position.  
  5. Repeat 5 times

back extension

If you are traveling during or after the Christmas season, examine these articles that provide holiday travel advice:

Five tips to injury-proof your holidays

How to reduce the chance of knee pain spoiling a good holiday

Long haul flights: survival of the fittest!