Preventing Holiday Related Injuries – tips from Physical Therapist Heather Goodell, P.T.
Portland, OR—December 9, 2009—Local Physical Therapist instructs, “Every year around the Holidays we have new patients with ‘Holiday Injuries’.”
Among the most common are neck and shoulder pain from hanging lights and reaching up for prolonged periods. The solution: Look up with your eyes, not with your head. Set your shoulder blades together and down as you reach up to stabilize your shoulders. If you have good balance, use a sturdy step ladder so you don’t have to reach so high.
Climbing ladders can lead to one of the most dreaded holiday injuries – a big fall. Falls can occur due to the very slow and difficult to detect reduction in balance that occurs with age and with gradual decline in strength. So, if you have had any illnesses that have kept you in bed for an extended period of time, you could have developed weakness that can impair your balance. Consider giving yourself a little test for ladder safety – if you can’t stand on one leg for 7 seconds without losing balance or significant swaying, then you should NOT get on a ladder. Then, of course there is the other main ladder dilemma, “If I could just reach 1 inch further…CRASH!” Take that extra few seconds and move the ladder to reposition when things are just out of your reach. Trust me, it is worth it!
The Holidays and all their hustle and bustle can leave you with less time for stress reducing activities…like exercise! The result can be increased pain in the neck and back, increased muscle tension. Don’t fret; you can solve this one! Three times per week do some exercises. Even just 5 or 10 minutes can significantly reduce muscle tension. And/or simply, take a 20 minute brisk walk 3-5 days per week to rebalance your stress hormones and get the blood circulating to those tight muscles. Print a picture off the web of your favorite physical therapist and put it next to your credit card, so every time you are out holiday shopping they can “remind you” to do your exercises, balance the load you are carrying and stand with good posture.
Foot pain is another common malady associated with the increased time spent shopping and standing in line at the cash register. Don’t forget to wear supportive shoes if you are out for a day of power shopping. I’m a big fan of Danskos, Clarks, Keens, and for some added style, there are a variety of funky styles in comfy shapes at Switch shoe store in Multnomah Village. If you are at Washington square or the Lloyd Center, check out the Shoe Mill for some good quality, comfy shoes. Things to look for in a shoe include a wide enough toe box to accommodate the natural shape of your foot, lower heels to keep the pressure off the ball of the foot, shock absorbing soles, rocker bottom styles that reduce the amount of work your foot has to do in the toe off phase (this helps with big toe pain too). Of course, you can break up your shopping trips and try the wonder of online shopping.
Another holiday problem is dehydration. It is cold outside and nothing sounds better than a nice cup of tea, coffee or the occasional buttered rum and egg-nog. Teas of the green, black, and white varieties as well as coffee have caffeine in them which have been known to dehydrate you. All caffeinated and alcoholic drinks have an effect on you which temporarily stops production of your anti-diuretic hormone and leads to lower levels of hydration in the body. Being dehydrated can lead to muscle tension, headaches, a greater propensity to catch colds, and in the long run can cause kidney damage. So switch it up and try herbal teas, and spiced apple cider. While in the mad holiday shopping rush, throw a water bottle in your bag. If you do have any caffeinated or alcoholic beverage, try to chase it with a glass of water (it will reduce the chance of a nasty hangover the next day, too!).
Sometimes the holidays bring the “magical” winter weather with them which is fun to play in, but can be associated with slips and falls. My experience has been that falling on ice can bring worse injuries than driving on ice (of course this is speed dependant). Consider investing in some cramp-ons… little rubber things that strap on to your shoes and are studded. These work well on ice but are not as useful on sticky snow. Another trick is to wear your wool socks OVER your shoes on ice to help you stick. If you have hiking poles or a cane, take at least one with you for extra stability. Of course, for your car, you can get the studded tires, learn how to use your chains, drive slowly, or my favorite – stay home and enjoy hot cocoa! If you are the dare devil type and enjoy sledding, remember to be sure your path is clear of large rocks, trees, cars, and other blunt or sharp objects! Learn how to “bail out” safely off your sled, skis, or snowboard.
Heather Purdin Goodell, PT is a Physical Therapist who has been practicing in Portland for 11 years. She currently owns a private practice, Goodell Physical Therapy & Fitness Training in Southwest Portland. She works with the Oregon Physical Therapy Association’s Public Relations Team in an effort to educate the public about the benefits of physical therapy. She has been featured on KATU’s/Channel 2 morning show with programs on back pain and functional fitness exercises.