By Tom Macek, M.D.
The holidays are a time when everyone is encouraged to be of good cheer.
But this joyous time of year is a lot less merry for those suffering from chronic bad backs, migraines, arthritis and other pain-inducing ailments.
“Any kind of pain can seriously affect your quality of life,” says Dr. Tom Macek, an anesthesiologist and partner at American Pain Experts.
“Sometimes, of course, pain is temporary. It quickly fades and all is well. But for some people, the pain doesn’t go away – at least not for long – and that’s what we consider to be chronic pain. In those cases, it’s crucial to determine what’s causing your pain and to get it under control.”
A doctor may prescribe medication and therapy for patients who are enduring these worst-case scenarios, but Macek says there are steps anyone can take on their own to avoid or reduce pain. He says important information worth knowing includes:
- A long winter’s nap can be a pain in the neck. You wouldn’t think you could harm yourself much by going to bed at night, but you actually can cause quite a bit of damage, Macek says. Neck pain is common. Massages, chiropractic adjustment and medication can help, but in the meantime a few adjustments with your pillow might provide relief. If you sleep on your back, use a thin pillow that keeps the curvature of your neck the same as it usually is when you’re standing. If you sleep on your side, use a thicker pillow that keeps your head positioned in the middle of your shoulders. And if you sleep on your stomach, Macek says, consider changing your habits because that position creates the most stress on the neck.
- The lower back is an injury waiting to happen. If your mother told you not to slump, she was right. Poor posture contributes to lower-back pain, so sit up straight. Lifting heavy objects correctly can also help you avoid back problems, which is worth keeping in mind if Santa is delivering anything with a little heft this year. People often bend over to lift things and that’s a mistake, Macek says. Instead, keep your chest forward and bend at the knees.
- Try to keep stress to a minimum. Ambitious revelers can create an intimidating to-do list at holiday time, but the stress that comes with hosting parties and standing in long retail-store lines can take its toll. Anyone dealing with chronic pain already feels stressed, so it’s best to reduce as much of that stress as possible, Macek says. To accomplish that: Get a good night’s sleep. Exercise regularly. Make sure you eat a balanced diet, including whole grains, lean meats, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit. (Admittedly, that could be a tall order when the chocolate-covered cherries and sugar cookies beckon, he says.)
“Sometimes just a few easy steps can help alleviate at least some of your pain and then you can enjoy your holiday activities,” Macek says. “But if pain won’t go away and is more than you can bear, it’s time to visit a physician.”