Believe it or not: 240 people a day get injured while holiday shopping, traveling, or decorating

3 ways to avoid the dreaded 'Santa Strain'

With the winter holidays right around the corner, festive decorations are popping up around town. But for the 80% of adults who experience back pain, the most wonderful time of year can easily become the most painful… if they aren’t careful. Each day, 240 people get injured while decorating during December.

Julie Lombardo, owner of Capitol Physical Therapy, says a majority of her clients this time of year are 50 and older, although she stresses that back pain doesn’t discriminate.

“I think it’s something everyone should be concerned about,” Lombardo said. “The older we get, the slower we heal, so we want to be really cautious of that.”

Here are three ways Lombardo says you can avoid the “Santa Strain.”

1. Stretch before and after you shop, travel, or decorate.

Focus on your core, your back, and your legs in particular. Lombardo suggests focusing on core work, including forearm planks and crunches. A strong core will increase the amount of weight your back can comfortably carry.

You can stretch your back by lying on it and bringing your knees to your stomach and holding for 30 seconds. You can stretch your legs by bending over and trying to touch the floor with your head tucked as close to your body as possible. Hold for 15 seconds.

2. Make sure you’re lifting and carrying everything correctly.

This time of year, we have to deal with boxes, bins, shopping bags, and groceries. Physical therapists recommend holding them as close to your body as possible: 20 pounds held at arm’s length exerts as much force as 50 pounds held close to your body.

Also, split up your load. Carrying several smaller bags is easier than one big bag. Lombardo recommends lifting bags and boxes with your feet apart and one foot slightly in front of the other. She says to squat and lift with your legs rather than bending and using your back.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

The average 7-foot Christmas tree weighs 50 pounds. That’s a two-person job! Climbing a ladder? Make sure someone is standing at the bottom just in case. Avoid stepping on the top two rungs if using an extension ladder for outdoor decorating.

When cutting down a tree, Lombardo says you should bring along another adult, not just your kids. Lie flat on your back to cut through the trunk instead of bending over, cut away from you, and make sure no one is in the way when the tree falls.

Bonus tip: Be careful of how much your carrying and how you’re sitting during your holiday travels.

Lombardo says you should keep your suitcases to 30 pounds. You should also use several smaller bags instead of a big one. When traveling long distances, ship as much as you can ahead of time. Use a backpack if possible to keep weight more evenly distributed.

“Long car trips and flights put a lot of pressure on your back because you’re sitting for a long period of time,” Lombardo said. “Our bodies are made to move, so the times when we’re not moving, we become more sore.”

If you’re going to sit for a long time while traveling, use a small pillow for lumbar support and sit with your back straight. Lombardo also suggests bringing a pillow; and when using the overhead rack on a plane, lifting your bag to the seat first, and then the rack to avoid twisting and straining.

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