Shopping, stress and back pain: Have a healthier holiday

Stress can be a bad thing for your entire body, and for many people, the holiday season is the epitome of stress for the whole year. Like a lot of causes of back pain, though, it's the little things as well as the obvious ones. Consumer Reports pointed this out in a recent article on the physical strain associated with the season.

Reading that list, you can probably relate to a lot of the key points: Who hasn't felt worn down after walking around a mall all day? Overstuffed wallets and purses are fairly obvious problems that we've talked about before. There are other potential pain triggers, however, such as picking up a clothing hanger and holding it away from your body.

According to Harvard University Chief of Physical Therapy Mary Ann Wilmarth, D.P.T., this can add to upper back strain, multiplying the weight of the object itself. Wilmarth also said that "the closer the package is to you, the less stress will go down your torso and the discs in your lower back," referring to an easier, less harmful way to carry boxes around with you.

Online buying burdens
Think you can skip the hazards by just shopping online? Think again! Sitting at home and browsing online can be a major problem if you get too comfortable and find yourself slouching over. Putting your computer on a pillow and relaxing in bed sounds cozy but could contribute to strain. That also means keeping the laptop away from your physical lap, which might seem contradictory, but could ultimately leave you feeling better.

If possible, it's best to use detached electronics, too, like a keyboard and mouse, to give you some distance from the device itself. That could, in turn, leave you with a little more freedom to move around and avoid stiffness.

The Consumer Reports article referenced another holiday-related danger that could appear in the home: wrapping presents, specifically on the floor. This is another casual way to deny your back the support it needs, and the better alternative is instead to put the wrapping close by on a table, so you won't have to lean over. Remember to pay attention to stressors that may show up during "relaxing" activities.

Simple cures for hectic times
In the end, some of your best bets for staying pain-free can be the basic ones. Taking breaks is a very important means of reducing strain: you'll feel better and have a moment to collect yourself, whether you're out shopping or simply sitting at your desk. It's also a good idea not to carry too much at once, even if you're just trying to take a bunch of boxes from one room to the other.

Above all, don't ignore recurring pain. The end of the year is a bad time to get waylaid by a back problem, so contact a chiropractor or other specialist for some professional guidance.