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Holidays Can Be a Pain in the Back

Seasonal activities that can contribute to back pain and how to avoid them
By Michael Conti Mica, MD

The holiday season can bring fun times with family and friends – but certain festivities can bring back and spine pain as well. This winter, be aware of these potential pain triggers so you can avoid back discomfort and enjoy yourself throughout the season.


Holiday shopping can be fun, but the reality is that you may spend much of your time standing in long lines or carrying heavy or oversized bags and packages. This can put strain and stress on your spine, back, legs and feet causing pain or aggravating existing injuries and conditions. Alleviate these strains by taking regular breaks to sit and rest while browsing the stores. Be sure to lift items with proper technique by bending at the hips and knees, keeping your back perpendicular to the ground and lifting with your legs.   Don’t hesitate to ask for help carrying or loading items if you feel you need it!


Many of us travel during this time of year to see friends and family. Neck and back pain can intensify when traveling, especially long distances, due to extended sedentary sitting positions, lack of lumbar support and handling of heavy luggage. You can make luggage handling much easier by packing light, using wheeled luggage, lifting luggage with your legs rather than your back and asking for help, if needed, to put your belongings in overhead bins or the trunk of your car.

 While traveling, be aware of your posture and adjust your seat to provide you with optimum support:

  • Keep feet flat on the floor.
  • Check the curve of your lower back to make sure it’s getting lumbar support from your seat. You may want to travel with a small pillow if you need additional support.
  • Align your ears over your shoulders and keep from hunching your back.
  • Headrests should support the middle of your head and should not push your head forward.

 It also helps to take breaks to get up, stretch and move around so you aren’t experiencing back pain once you arrive at your destination.

 Overnight accommodations

Waking up to back pain isn’t a great way to start your day – but can happen when you’re staying overnight away from home. With some advance preparation and calls, you can plan your stay so that you’re comfortable and hopefully free from back pain. If you have the ability to choose, select a medium to firm mattress that does not sag. If the mattress is very soft, avoid sleeping on your abdomen. If you already have back pain, avoid sofa beds if possible.

Holiday foods

Everyone has a favorite holiday food or treat and many times we indulge at parties and get-togethers. You might think gaining a pound or two can’t hurt too much but the reality is that we often gain more weight than we realize and that weight can be hard to lose – putting additional stress on your back and spine. The good news is you can still enjoy your favorite traditions and treats – just be mindful of how much you’re eating and incorporate some exercise to offset any extra calories you may consume.


Bright lights and colorful decorations look great, but you may want to ask for help putting up the tree this year if you’ve got back pain. Hauling a tree, taking down boxes from the attic and stringing lights on the roof are easy ways to injure yourself as they require movements that put added strain on your spine and back.

 Winter weather

Snow, ice, rain and sleet are all part of living in Chicagoland in the winter, but it can be a literal pain in the back. Be sure to wear the proper footwear in inclement weather and look for icy or wet spots on pavement, sidewalks and floors to avoid slipping or twisting your back. When shoveling snow, be sure to lift with your legs, not your arms or back and use a snow blower or ergonomic snow shovel with a curved handle. Drinking plenty of fluids, dressing warmly and stretching can help prevent injury too. Even better – hire a service or neighbor to do the heavy lifting for you!

Following these tips can help you avoid back stress and pain so you can enjoy the season fully. If you do hurt your back, be sure to call one of the DuPage Medical Group spine specialists at 630-967-2225.


Topics and Subtopics: General Health & Spine & Back Problems

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