The holiday season brings many opportunities to start new initiatives to improve your health, but it can also bring on additional stress that can worsen chronic back pain and can intensify feelings of frustration and despair that come from dealing with the pain.
Our goal is to provide some simple, helpful tips on how to get through the holiday season when you’re suffering from back pain.
If you have time off, use some of the time to start an exercise program
Exercise in a controlled, gradual, and progressive manner is the best way to tell our body - especially the various structures in the spine - to heal. Active exercise means we use our nervous system to tell the muscles what to do. If you can, take a full vacation day over the holidays and dedicate it to improving your physical conditioning. For example:
- Make an appointment with a physical therapist and start an exercise program that is customized to your needs. Perhaps a physical therapy routine that incorporates water therapy, Swiss ball exercises, or yoga would best suit your condition and personal style. Be mindful that sometimes it becomes necessary to visit more than one physical therapist in order to find the help you need.
- Consider seeing a nutritionist to review and enhance your eating habits. If most calories consumed are in the form of sugars (such as breads, processed foods, sweets), any calories not immediately needed for energy are converted into fat, which is not helpful for the healing process. Proper nutrition includes adequate protein as a source of the building blocks of soft tissue healing, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to supply the vitamins and trace elements necessary for effective healing.
- If you already have an exercise program but have not been following it consistently, use any time your have off of work to get back into it and try to make it part of your routine.
Put some back pain products on your holiday wish list
Perhaps there are some products that can give your back better support during the day or while you’re sleeping. If so, you may want to put these on your holiday wish list. Here is a list of products that some people find help quite a bit:
- Supportive pillows for your neck and for between your knees while you sleep. See Pillow Support and Comfort.
- A heating pad, ice pack or moist-heat pack to ease the intense pain of flair-ups. See Ice Massage for Back Pain Relief.
- An orthopedic back support for your car or for your desk chair
- A Swedish kneeling chair or Swiss ball to sit on while at your desk. See Choosing the Right Exercise Ball.
- A supportive, ergonomically designed chair for your desk. See Office Chair: Choosing the Right Ergonomic Office Chair.
- Ergonomic supports for your wrists if you work at a computer.
- A headset to use if you spend a lot of time on the phone.
- Travel aids that ease the strain on your neck and spine, such as a cart or comfortable backpack case to carry your laptop, or a neck pillow for sleeping on the airplane. See Pain-Free Travel Tips.
- Home exercise equipment, such as a treadmill or exercise bike for your low-impact exercise routine, or some light free weights to build strong muscles and keep your bones strong. See Home Exercise Equipment for Low Impact Aerobic Exercise.
- An exercise mat for your daily stretching and exercise routine.
- And last, but not least, you might want to wish for a gift certificate for a massage with a licensed massage therapist – if the source of your pain is musculoskeletal, this might be quite helpful. See Massage Therapy for Lower Back Pain.
Take time to research your condition
Some people are very busy over the holidays, and others have extra free time. If you’re one of the latter, you might want to take the time to research your condition and treatment options in more depth. Curl up (or recline) with a good book on back pain, or find some trustworthy online resources.
Try to reduce holiday stress
As we know, the holidays can bring on many extra responsibilities, obligations and stress, and this can significantly worsen back pain or neck pain. Try to take time to recognize and manage the stress before it takes a toll on your back. Some coping mechanisms you might find helpful include:
- Try putting yourself in a relaxed, reclining position in a dark, quiet room. Either shut your eyes or focus on a point in the room.
- Breathe deeply, filling up your entire chest with air. If you find your mind wandering, then think of a word, such as the word "Relax", and think it in time with your breathing…the syllable "re" as you breath in and "lax" as you breath out.
- Continue with about 2 to 3 minutes of controlled breathing.
- Once you feel yourself slowing down, you can begin to use imagery techniques, such as Positive Imagery, in which you focus your attention on a pleasant place that you could imagine going (the beach, mountains, etc.) where you feel carefree, safe and relaxed, or Altered Focus, where you focus your attention on non-painful parts of your body (hand, foot, etc.) and alter sensation in that part of the body. For example, imagine your hand warming instead of focusing on the back pain.
While pain can be especially hard to deal with over the holiday season, please try to take time for yourself and use it to research and better understand your condition and to take at least one or two tangible, positive steps toward finding relief from your pain.