Thanksgiving and Back Pain

Monday, November 23rd, 2015, 9:37 pm

They don’t go together like mashed potatoes and gravy.

Most of us spend Thanksgiving split among three places:

  • the kitchen
  • the table
  • the couch

We’re on our feet. We’re carrying heavy stuff—the turkey with stuffing, vats of mashed potatoes, etc. We’re sitting for hours. We’re eating for hours.

Such a great holiday…with such great potential for creating back and neck pain.

You may be thinking—Really? It’s just one day; don’t be so dramatic about the possible traumatic effects on the back.

But for most people, Thanksgiving isn’t just a one day event. It’s a multi-day, multi-feast event. And really, Thanksgiving is only the pre-game that warms you up for a month of celebrations and special meals and sugar overloads.

But think about if you strain a back muscle lifting the turkey out of the oven: all the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and celebrating aren’t going to be too merry.

If you can get Thanksgiving right—if you can get through it with a healthy back—you’re well on your way to enjoying December.

Tips to Avoid Back Pain in the Kitchen

Watch your posture and body mechanics. Are you hunched over the cutting board? Are you putting all your weight on one leg?

You should particularly watch yourself when pulling the turkey out of the oven. Some of those turkeys are heavy, so you should apply good heavy lifting principles. Take breaks. With so many people in the kitchen, you can schedule rotating breaks. Have a seat at the kitchen table (if there’s room). Go for a walk (if the weather’s nice; this is also a good way to be proactive against all the extra calories you eat on Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays). Play with the kids (if there are kiddos).

Doing something different—using your body in a different way, even just for 15 minutes every hour or so—can help you avoid tired, sore muscles at the end of the day. Wear good shoes. Contrary to what Donna Reed portrayed, heels are not appropriate footwear for the kitchen, especially when you’re going to be cooking for so long. This article explains how high heels affect your spine.

It’s better to wear sensible shoes: any shoes with good arch support and a sole that grips count as sensible shoes. Get help. We don’t mean hire help or outsource the whole meal. But do not attempt to do the entire meal yourself. You’ll end up spending entirely too much time in the kitchen on your feet. And most of us do not spend that much time standing up on a normal day, so the unexpected strain on your feet, knees, and spine may cause back pain.

Get everyone involved in making the meal. It’ll be more fun, plus it’s much easier to pass on traditional family recipes to the next generation if the next generation is actually helping knead the dough and baste the turkey.

Tips to Avoid Back Pain at the Table

Eat slowly. This tip is more to guarantee that you enjoy the meal. Don’t overeat: on Thanksgiving, most of us take in many times our daily caloric allowance. Thanksgiving is the traditional start to the holiday overeating period—and all those extra calories lead to extra weight. After the holidays, it can be difficult to lose that weight.

If you eat slowly, though, you’ll be more aware when you’re full. Trying to eat a normal-size portion of everything is too much; be content with small tastes of everything.

Watch your posture. Basically, you should always watch your posture, whether you’re standing or sitting. We tend to spend a long time around the Thanksgiving table…sharing what we’re thankful for, laughing, passing the dinner rolls, catching up.

The meal is the social focus of the day (although many women know that the real talk happens in the kitchen, another reason to get as much help in the kitchen as possible), so if you spend all that time with poor sitting posture, you run the risk of back pain.

Get up from the table. As a family—and weather permitting—take a brisk walk after the meal. In fact, during the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant about exercise—it’s so easy to get behind. Throughout December and into the New Year, stick to your workout schedule (or get a head start on a New Year’s resolution and begin an exercise plan).

Making exercise a fun family activity is a good way to burn off Thanksgiving calories. Consider playing touch football, getting out the Wii Fit, or sticking with a simple walk.

Tips to Avoid Back Pain on the Couch

Go to bed. If you’re going to nap—and face it, you probably are—go lay down in a real bed. Too many of us end up in the oddest positions when we doze on the couch, and very few people really think about the angle of their neck before drifting off in the recliner.

Then you know how it is: you wake up an hour or three later, and the first thing you do is reach up to massage your sore neck. (The second thing you do is go get another piece of pumpkin pie.)

Watch your posture. I wasn’t kidding before when I said that you should always be thinking about your posture, even while watching Snoopy float down 34th Street in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Slumping into the couch places an unnatural strain on your spine. Make sure that your low back is supported: use a pillow to give lumbar support if necessary.

One of the best ways to make sure you don’t strain your back muscles while watching TV is rather simple: don’t spend huge amounts of time in front of it. Granted, you do need to watch football or a holiday movie, but get up every hour and move around a bit. Change positions frequently when you’re sitting down.

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