The dark side of fruitcake

What on earth would a Physiotherapist have to say about Fruitcake? Fruitcake, Sufganiyot,Khrustyky, Midnight Madness, Black Friday. These terms are synonymous with the holiday season and the aching legs, backs and shoulders associated with the preparations.

As the holidays draw closer, experience tells me that I will be encountering patients reporting a sudden onset of pain that they cannot account for. There has been no slip and fall, no sudden, awkward lift. Yet they have pain. Detailed questioning identifies the culprit … holiday preparations … decorating, shopping, entertaining.

Marathon bakers present with repetitive strain from stirring heavy batter, rolling lengths of cookies, bending and lifting, and standing for hours at work surfaces that are either too high or too low. Shoppers complain of neck, back, hip and knee pain from hours of meeting the physical and mental challenges of navigating busy stores. Wrapping and decorating presents while sitting crouched on the floor leads to similar symptoms.

Reaching to install lights and decorations or lifting the perfect tree to its place of honour can put a damper on holiday spirits.

As with most physically demanding tasks the more active one has been through the remainder of the year, the greater the success at meeting the seasonal challenges.

The following tips could make the weeks to come much less stressful.

  • Rotate your activities to break up awkward or repetitive tasks…wrap a present or two while your cookies bake
  • Maintain good body posture, Your work surface should be at waist height, your upper arms relaxed and forearms and wrists are straight
  • Alternate between sitting and standing to avoid fatigue
  • Take regular mini-breaks for stretching or moving to improve blood circulation and reduce muscle tension. Stay hydrated…water!
  • Use anti-fatigue mats or put one foot at a time on a foot rest, if you stand for long periods
  • Place materials/tools within easy reach
  • Set up your work area to avoid holding your arms at or above shoulder height for long periods
  • When lifting, decrease the size of the load whenever possible
  • When shopping, remember all shopping bags are not created equally. Consider bringing a better bag (a book bag) from home. There are also ergonomic grips available to place around multiple bag handles to ease strain on your hands
  • Distribute the weight of bags evenly. If you opt for a book bag from home, position the straps properly and wear it across both shoulders. Consider taking purchases to your vehicle…the fresh air will be welcomed
  • Minimize your own weight. Leave heavy winter coats in your vehicle. Thick fashionable scarves and wraps can lead to altered head/neck position and result in headaches.
  • Don’t forget the shoes! It is easy to hit 10,000 steps on a holiday shopping spree. That’s nearly five miles for your feet so choose shoes appropriate for the excursion.
  • If you choose on-line shopping, ensure your tablet/desk top is ergonomically correct.

Regardless of how you define holiday preparations—Work or Sport—they entail musculoskeletal demands. Always remember the spirit of the season, plan your activities, be patient and have fun. HAPPY, HEALTHY, HOLIDAYS!!

About the author: Joanne (Billings) Olsen, a Madawaska Valley native, is a Registered Physiotherapist with the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario. After 40 years of successful clinical practice and Peer Mentoring in Regulation in Southern Ontario, Joanne has returned to her roots to share what she ventured off to learn.

Photo: James Petts

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