If you have a chronic back pain, it’s imperative that you avoid or modify these activities for a pain-free holiday season.

O Come, All Ye Painful? You could be singing the wrong tune if you don’t take caution when performing these back-busting activities.

Even if you don’t have chronic back pain, it’s important to exercise caution when performing these activities to prevent an aching back.

1. Decorating the tree: 

Between lugging that 7-foot Douglas fir home and getting it situated straight in the stand, carrying the boxes of ornaments and decorations down from the attic, and stringing lights on that palm tree in your front yard, you’re basically asking Santa for a back ache.

Pro tip: Don’t hesitate to ask for help. You don’t need to be a hero and do all the heavy lifting and decorating yourself. Get the tree delivered, have your kids take care of the ornaments and skip the outdoor lights this year, as anything with repetitive reach and twisting is especially risky for your back.

2. Shopping at the mall:

Holiday shopping is fun in theory. In actuality, you’re looking at crowds, long lines at the checkout counters and hours spent carrying heavy and awkwardly shaped bags full of presents.

Pro tip: Do yourself — and your back — a favor and do your shopping online. Follow these tips to avoid a trip to the ER during the holidays.

3. Cooking:

You would think standing would be good for your back, and it can be. But if you’re standing for hours on end while baking and decorating three different kinds of cookies, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Pro tip: Wear comfortable and supportive shoes, stand on a rubber mat to ease the pressure on your spine, practice good posture and take frequent breaks to move around and stretch your back, shoulders and neck, ideally every 30 minutes. If lower back pain is your particular issue, try these exercises for a strong and fit core.

4. Lugging heavy luggage:

You’re so excited to see your baby sister that you can’t wait to graciously welcome her into your home, so of course you want to carry all the luggage and gifts she and her three kids brought along.

Pro tip: Take a minute to remember everything you know about lifting heavy items correctly. Bend from your knees not your waist, and don’t carry more than you can handle. Let your linebacker of a nephew lend a hand — yes, even though he is younger than you and a guest in your house.

5. Traveling:

As with decorating the tree, traveling is rife with pitfalls for your back. There’s the aforementioned heavy luggage, no shortage of interminable lines to wait in from the check-in to security to embarking on the plane, and seats that were made for someone one-fourth your size. 

Pro tip: Always lift your bags properly, and check them in at your earliest opportunity. Send presents ahead of time so you have less to carry and can make it through the security line faster. As for that plane ride, consider bringing a small pillow for additional lumbar support. And get up, walk around and stretch at every opportunity.

If you do end up injuring your back during the holidays, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself to ice or heat your back so it doesn’t get worse. If it doesn’t get better, cancel those holiday brunch plans and see your doctor.

“Someone should consider seeing a spine specialist if they sustained trauma with the onset of pain, if the pain does not resolve or appears to be worsening,” said Christopher Ornelas, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at Keck School of Medicine of USC and an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in non-operative spinal disorders at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC. “Patients should seek immediate attention if there is weakness or loss of bowel or bladder control.”

By: Anne Fritz

If you suffer from back pain, consult the experts at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, book an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting https://spine.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.