The holiday season brings many opportunities to take initiatives to improve your health, but it can also bring on additional stress that worsens chronic back pain. This time of year could 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.
1. If you have time off, use it to get started with an exercise routine
Exercise in a controlled, gradual, and progressive manner is the best way to tell our bodies, especially the various structures in the spine, to heal. Active exercise means we use our nervous system to tell our 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.
2. Take time to research your condition
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. Too many of us simply try to manage the symptoms of our conditions day to day. Instead, use your free time over the holidays to really understand your condition and all the treatments available to you to help relieve your pain. For example, did you know that:
- Simply using a tennis ball for a do-it-yourself massage is often the best way to reduce trigger points and muscle tension?
- Application of a 6-hour low-level heat wrap, such as using a Thermacare heat wrap, is often more effective at reducing low back pain than medications?
If you can, go through www.spine-health.com. The site has literally hundreds of pages of peer reviewed patient education articles on treatment options, risks, and benefits, as well as other trusted online sources related to your back condition. You will be surprised at how many options there are for you!
3. Try to reduce holiday stress
As we know, the holidays can bring on many extra responsibilities, obligations, and stress, which 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 breathe in and "lax" as you breathe out.
- Continue with about 2 to 3 minutes of controlled breathing.
- Once you feel yourself slowing down, you can begin to use imagery techniques:
- 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.
- 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.
4. Focus on nutrition to help your back
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, and sweets), then the body converts any calories not immediately needed for energy into fat, which is not helpful for the healing process.
Balanced 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.
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. Using this list, you can take at least one or two tangible, positive steps toward finding relief from your pain.