Christmas is a surprisingly… dangerous… time of year.
McTimoney Chiropractor Julia Sayers highlights some of the health hazards, and offers some solutions…
On The First Day Of Christmas
When preparing to put up Christmas decorations, be careful not to reach awkwardly as you get things down out of the loft.
Take care, not to over-stretch and stoop while you’re decorating the tree – remember that the low back doesn't like lifting, stretching and leaning forwards all at the same time.
Advice: Use a step ladder to reach the top of the tree, and a padded cushion to help your knees.
On The Second Day Of Christmas
Carrying shopping bags laden with heavy and awkwardly shaped packages can force the body into unnatural positions. Take someone else along to help ease the load – the addition of the turkey alone could add an extra 14lbs (a stone!!!) to your usual shopping load.
Advice: It may be a bit tedious but try to avoid doing all the shopping on one day. If you prefer shopping like that, then frequent trips back to the car to unload will save your shoulders and neck a lot of stress.
When you’re lifting get a firm footing. Keep your feet apart for a stable base, and point them in the direction of travel. Bend your hips and knees instead of bending at the waist, to allow the leg muscles – and not the spine – to take the load. Tighten abdominal muscles (which support the spine when lifting). Lift steadily, and don't jerk the load. Keep your back straight and avoid twisting or bending to the side. And keep the load close; the closer it is to your spine, the less force it exerts on your back.
This applies to whatever you’re lifting – turkey or presents, toddlers or babies!
On The Third Day Of Christmas
Eating is a big part of Christmas, and all that cooking can mean hours standing in the kitchen, which is a great time to do some simple postural exercise. Beware, though: lifting heavy pans of steaming vegetables or simply removing a piping hot turkey from the oven can prove cumbersome. Try to ensure you maintain correct posture. When you stand, peeling vegetables or stirring the pudding mix, your lower back should curve slightly. This helps to distribute weight properly through the spine and pelvis. Good posture keeps the muscles in balance and your body well aligned; poor posture places abnormal weight on joints and stresses muscles and tendons, often leading to pain, and creating an environment for dis-ease and dysfunction.
Advice: Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead. You should be able to project a line from just in front of your ankle bone and have it run midway between your hip, shoulder and ear.
Practice working your core muscles by pulling your tummy towards the spine as much as possible and then releasing it by about 60%. If you can sustain this posture you will be strengthening your natural weight belt – don’t forget to breathe!!
On The Fourth Day Of Christmas
Try to keep up with water intake... it is very easy to become dehydrated with all the alcohol and salty snacks. Brandy is the worst for hangovers and, in descending order, red wine, rum, whisky and white wine.
Advice: Remember to drink at least two litres of water during the day. Too much alcohol will deplete the body of blood sugars, vitamins and minerals. Alcohol is a diuretic – and so is that cup of (so-called) reviving coffee!
Avoid mixing your drinks, eat some food with your drink, and try to build exercise into your day, even if it's only a walk around the office to get a blast of fresh air.
On The Fifth Day…
Many of us spend Christmas with relatives which can mean sleeping on anything from the living room sofa to an antiquated camp bed, and if you're really unlucky you might find you’ve been allocated the floor…
Advice: Take your own pillow with you, plus some extra cushions, particularly if you know that you are on the floor, and place the extra pillows under your hip and shoulder. Ideally, try to sleep on your side, and avoid lying on your stomach as this can aggravate the curve in your lower back. It also forcibly turns your head to one side, which increases the potential for pain.
On The Sixth Day…
Routine is often thrown at Christmas; exercise often gets onto the back burner, and binge eating becomes the order of the day.
Advice: Try to keep yourself moving and to maintain your normal level of exercise over the Christmas period, or at least manage a 30-60 minute walk during the day. It will help your digestion and get all those muscles moving again! Don’t stress about your exercise, though, or it will simply become counterproductive.
On The Seventh Day…
Be mindful of posture when wrapping gifts and writing cards. Hours spent perched on the edge of the bed or crouched on the floor can force the body into unusual positions for long periods of time.
Advice: Try to wrap presents at a table. Good sitting posture is important whether you’re in the car or at the lunch table. Decent seats and proper posture both help ease the pressure on the discs.
Ideally you need to sit tall, with both feet flat on the floor, whole back against the chair back, and head erect. Weight should be evenly distributed on both buttocks.
On The Eighth Day…
Take some time for yourself. All the added stress and running around can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. Even worse, for those who are susceptible, it can trigger migraine or tension headaches.
Pain may be felt at the base of the skull, or spread throughout the surface of the head to the face and the eyes; on both sides of the head or just on one. Mechanical stress in the form of poorly functioning neck joints can affect the nerves of the face, head and neck; when these are stretched or irritated they can produce throbbing tension, especially at the base of the neck, head and jaw, which can irritate nerves and upset the blood flow, causing headaches.
Advice: Drink lots of water. Alcohol, fizzy drinks and tea and coffee are mild diuretics, causing increased dehydration, and this may make a headache worse.
Exercise and fresh air can help – and if family dynamics are difficult then a walk in your own space or a nice long shower in peace and quiet provides valuable ‘me’ time.
On The Ninth Day…
For those lucky enough to be zig-zagging down the slopes over the holidays, be mindful that skiing and snowboarding can cause stress on the body. A good majority of injuries result from the same scenario: relatives or siblings trying to teach people the ropes and therefore a lack of proper instruction. Coming up a close second in the injury stakes is predisposition – ie a lack of conditioning.
Skiing injuries, most commonly to the knee, unfortunately have the potential to be quite serious. Snowboarders don't tend to do as much damage to knees but more to the upper extremities including whiplash type injuries and landing on hard, icy surface leading to a bruised coccyx – ouch!
Advice: Train moderately for your holiday and don’t just rush out onto the slopes, or off them, without taking your limbs through some basic stretches and warm up and down. This simple routine will help prevent some aches and pains, especially if you are unused to that level or frequency of exercise.
On The Tenth Day…
‘Tis the season to be… sedentary. For many of us it begins with long, cramped car journeys and is often followed by days slumped on the sofa watching our favourite Christmas films.
Advice: Break long journeys every 60-90 minutes. Try to avoid sitting for longer as this can slow down the flow of cerebrospinal fluid which bathes the brain and spinal cord. This has the effect of making you feel tired and sluggish. Prolonged sitting just makes the muscles stiff as they are not ‘pumping’ fluids around the rest of the body.
On The Eleventh Day…
Dress sensibly, at least some of the time! Party clothes may look fabulous but beware: fashion can impact negatively on health. Yes, stilettos make our best assets stand out, but high heels throw weight onto the ball of the foot (which may lead to corns, callus, bunions and deformity). They push the centre of mass in the body forwards, causing the spine to bend backwards to compensate. The position of the foot in the shoe and an often-narrow heel width can cause the ankle to become unstable, resulting in sprains. The calf muscles may shorten and tighten.
Advice: Keep killer heels for special occasions. Try to vary heel heights and on the whole keep them below 4 cm. Calf stretches can help – an easy way is to face upstairs, place the ball of your foot on the step and let the heel drop gently below the level of your toes; don't bounce as this can overstretch and damage the muscles.
Avoid heavy bags slung on one shoulder as this tends to be hiked high to bear the load and the other shoulder then becomes rather immobile. If you walk for any distance with a heavy load it affects the swing of the arms which can then impact on the pelvis and legs.
On The Twelfth Day…
Turn your thoughts to your health plans for 2011. Most aches and pains are mechanical problems and you don't have to 'put up with' back, neck and shoulder pains. McTimoney is a particular type of chiropractic, characteristically gentle in nature, that involves very fast, low-force adjustments. Generally you do not hear any cracking or popping noises as the adjustments are made.
Advice: See essential-chiropractic.co.uk or, if you have any particular questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07976 357463.