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Don’t strain your spine as you deck the halls

By Dr. Joseph T. Cox

The holiday season is approaching quickly, and with it lots of excitement. It’s an opportunity to buy fun presents for our loved ones, enjoy delicious food and celebrate with friends and family. As a spine surgeon, I know from personal and professional experience that we lift, push, pull and climb things over the holidays that are not typical during the rest of the year. People also tend to eat and imbibe more, which can lead to weight gain and greater pressure on the spine. Hopefully, these tips will keep you and your back healthy throughout the holidays:

1. Lifting decorations and groceries

When lifting a heavy object like a box of decorations or a full sack of groceries, there are several ways to decrease the risk of developing low back pain. Always pick up objects using a good squat form, bending at the hips and knees and keeping your back straight. Your back should stay relatively vertical when using proper form. Once the object is firmly in your grasp, hold it close to your body to keep the object’s center of gravity near your center of gravity.

2. Decorating safely

It’s hard to outdo Clark Griswold without getting on a ladder and maybe even the roof. Unfortunately, extravagant rooftop decorating is very dangerous. Falls from rooftops and ladders can cause devastating injuries.

I would advise strongly against long ladders and walking on the roof. When using a short ladder, minimize trips up and down. Always make sure the ladder feet are set firmly in place and that a spotter is present to stabilize the ladder and retrieve anything you forgot to grab before climbing to the top.

3. Eating healthy

With all the extra food platters and candy, it’s hard to avoid unneeded calories. For every pound gained, your lower back feels an additional 4 pounds of pressure. The opposite is also true, so for every pound lost, your spine feels that you’ve lost 4 pounds. Drinking 16 ounces of water 10 minutes before meals, using a small plate and waiting five to 10 minutes before going back for seconds are a few simple ways to avoid overeating.

4. Exercise and stretching

With the extra demands during the holidays, make sure to take time for yourself. Devoting 20 minutes per day to some form of exercise will release endorphins to help you tackle your next holiday challenge. It also will burn some of those holiday calories should you accidentally eat too much.

For your back, I recommend core-strengthening exercises like crunches, horizontal and side planks and back extensions. These exercises are simple but can help with both neck and low back pain and are found easily online.

Dr. Joseph T. Cox is a surgeon and physician with Bienville Orthopaedic Specialists. He sees patients at the practice’s Gulfport and Biloxi offices. Reach him at (228) 230-BONE (2663).