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  • Dr. Kristen K. Schulte, PT

Best Holiday Season Ever: Tips to Avoid Pain & Stay Healthy


Thanksgiving is officially one week away!! If you are like me, that means launching into a spectacular season of parties with family and friends, making and eating plenty of delicious food, hauling out trees and boxes of decoration…and…an overall totally lack of routine from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year. And that is totally cool. ‘Tis the season, after all, and who would want to miss out on this merriment? Perhaps we weren’t even meant to be in the same routine for 12 months, anyway…

Each January, I get an influx of people signing up for appointments. I want to say it is because everyone wants to get cleared physically before starting their New Year’s Resolution, but in reality, it is a result of what I would like to call “Holiday Injury.” (Still haven’t been able to locate the ICD10 code for this…) I have seen everything from plantar fasciitis from a party that was held in a barn with a concrete floor to tennis elbow cooking to the classic low back pain from getting that 10 foot tree out of the basement. (I wish I was joking.)

You see, not only are activities this time of year perhaps more diverse and in longer duration than those the rest of the year, but I would venture to say that a lot of these injuries occur because people are out of their regular routines. I would never tell you to give up any of these traditions. You should be able to haul up boxes from the basement, provided you have stretched and use proper body mechanics. You should be able to cook all day, provided you are in good shoes and take breaks to move and relax your shoulders.

So here’s my holiday wisdom, and since I don’t believe in telling you anything I wouldn’t do myself, none of it includes staying in your routine or choosing to avoid the merriment. Here me now: do all the things!! …but also consider a few of these tips:

1. Let’s assume that you normally work out for 30 minutes 4x/week. If you are off work, have parties to attend and have family staying at your house, you probably are not taking time to go to the gym. Okay, so this might not be your season to improve your endurance or crush an exercise goal, but you should not put exercise on hold altogether. Our joints especially benefit from intentional exercise and movement, which means that even a few days off from exercise could make your muscles more stiff and your body prone to injury. Instead of going to the gym, try to take 20 minutes to yourself each morning before events get into full swing to do a brisk walk, light jog, or some light core work or stretching. Make it easy. Make it attainable. Just don’t stop moving.

2. If you are going to be on your feet all day cooking, cleaning, or attending a party, I beg you to plan your footwear accordingly. Slippers are a good idea if just plodding from the bedroom to the couch on a normal evening. Most slippers weren’t meant for standing over the stove for 8 hours. Strap on those athletic shoes and get to cookin’! And, ladies, while heels are beautiful for that New Year’s Eve party, they aren’t ready for 5 hours on a concrete barn floor. Boots (even the fashionable ones) tend to provide ample space for your feet to move all night, and if you are prone to foot problems, stop to see my friends at Up and Running here in Troy to get some over-the-counter inserts for those boots.

3. If your house (like mine) transforms into a Hallmark movie for Christmas, and it is your job to be hauling the boxes of decoration around, you should again consider your footwear. In addition, you should do some back, hamstring, and arm stretches before you try to lift anything. If you were at the gym and about to lift 30 pounds, you would probably (hopefully) not do it before warming up and stretching, so why should the box of ornaments be treated differently? And please, please, PLEASE, when you are lifting that box: keep your feet wide, core and hips engaged, and squat down to pick it up. No straight legs while rounding the back.

4. And finally…eat some veggies and sleep when you can. Increased sugar intake and lack of sleep over the holidays can cause your body to become more inflamed, which makes you more susceptible to soreness, achiness, and pulled muscles. So eat those Christmas cookies and down that hot cocoa, but go ahead and pile a little more of that spinach salad on your plate while you’re at it.

Enjoy the heck out of this holiday season, but remember even the slightest bit of self-care can go a long way toward making this season brighter. No one wants to miss out on the Christmas Day backyard family football game due to sitting on the couch with an ice pack from a Holiday Injury. Don’t get me wrong…I want to see you all in here in January, but I sure hope we are discussing how to best tackle your New Year’s Resolution 😊.

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