How to avoid back pain during the holidays

HOUSTON – A UT Health doctor said 80 percent of the population will have back pain at some point in life.

From activities like hanging Christmas lights to lifting heavy luggage, the holidays can be a treacherous time to injure your spine.

Gerald Malloy said his normal holiday routine used to be a recipe for back pain.

“Hang lights, pull the grandbabies around in the wagon and stuff like that. Put them in the wagons,” he said.

Since he had spine surgery two months ago, he's learning ways to make sure his back pain never returns.

“Learning therapy how to do stuff that you say, ‘Wow I should have learned how to do that years ago,’” Malloy said. “You squat down, you get it, and your ease up with it. If it's too heavy, get help. I'm going to do it the right way this year.”

Dr. Shah Dodwad, UT Health / MHOSH, said the most common injuries happen when people fall from ladders or strain when lifting boxes and suitcases.

However, pain can frequently happen doing almost anything you aren't used to: sleeping in a guest bed, standing a long time or picking up a kid who grew in the last year.

“It’s just about proper mechanics when you want to lift up a kid. If you bend at your hips, and left them straight up, that can create a problem versus bending down, keeping your spine in an upright, vertical alignment and bending down in your knees and then picking them up from that standpoint,” Dodwad said.

Since Dodwad said your core strength is crucial in preventing back pain, also remember holiday weight gain can hurt your back, too.

“Core muscles in the belly and the back is the biggest thing to try and prevent these things from happening. Because the stronger your muscles are, the stronger your core, the less likely you are to have these types of injuries,” Dodwad explained ways to prevent back pain.

Ice and heat can help with most injuries. The main treatment is anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen.

Malloy said another simple exercise that helped him get back to normal life is practicing good posture with everyday tasks like driving. He also does physical therapy to strengthen his core and quads.