Half (50%) of Americans experience pain or injuries during the holidays, according to a new survey by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS).

The online survey of 2742 adults was conducted December 11-13, 2019.

Among those who responded, more than two thirds (71%) say pain makes it harder to enjoy the holidays, and over a third (37%) say they’ve struggled to hide pain during the holidays. In addition, 72% of those Americans who have experienced pain during the holiday season said they have sustained a winter injury.

Additional survey results revealed the following, according to a media release from USAHS:

Top 5 most common holiday activities that cause injuries

  1. Slipping while walking outside (25%)
  2. Cooking holiday meals (e.g. burns or cuts) (23%)
  3. Decorating for the holidays (17%)
  4. Shoveling snow (16%)
  5. Car accident during winter weather (7%)

Top 5 most common holiday activities that cause physical pain

  1. Shoveling snow (32%)
  2. Long rides in cars, planes or trains (30%)
  3. Cooking holiday meals (25%)
  4. Decorating the house (22%)
  5. Gift Shopping (20%)

Top 5 most common winter injuries reported

  1. Back pain or injury (25%)
  2. Neck pain or tension (21%)
  3. Knee joint pain (18%)
  4. Bruises (17%)
  5. Cuts or lacerations (15%)

University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences faculty members offer the following tips to help make the holidays pain and injury free:  

Fall-Prevention Tips

“When decorating your home for the holidays, pay attention to potential hazards, especially with the use of extension cords for lights,” says occupational therapist and USAHS OT faculty member Dr Terri Roberts.  Other tips from Roberts include:

  • Never stand on chairs to hang decorations – always use a sturdy stool or a ladder.
  • Wear shoes or boots with good traction if you are walking outside
  • Be careful getting in and out of your car.
  • Keep your driveway and sidewalks clear of snow and use ice melt pellets if necessary.
  • Slow down: your risk of slipping and falling increases when you are in a rush.
  • If you do find yourself walking in an area that is icy, walk like a penguin – take short, shuffling steps as carefully as possible.

Tips to Prevent Injuries in the Kitchen

Dr Roberts has these kitchen safety tips if you are going to make a holiday feast for your family:

  • Always use oven mitts when handling hot pots and pans.
  • Do not leave food cooking on the stove unattended.
  • Do not wear loose clothing or jewelry while cooking.
  • Keep kids and pets out of the kitchen.
  • Be sure to wash your hands frequently, especially if handling meat.

Tips to Avoid Back Pain During Travel

Physical therapist and USAHS PT faculty member Dr Katheryn Sawyer recommends that you get up every hour while flying to move around, such as walking to the bathroom. If traveling by car, Sawyer recommends frequent stops where you can walk around for a few minutes.

  • Check your luggage so that you don’t have to carry/drag a heavy bag around the airport. This also means you won’t have to lift it up into the overhead bin.
  • Bring a lumbar support pillow/roll. Find one that is small and compact and great for travel. Bring it in your carry-on bag, and it will help with sitting posture.
  • If traveling by car, pack multiple light bags for easier lifting out of the trunk and transporting.

Talking About Pain with Loved Ones

“It’s difficult to communicate to others about pain. We all experience it, but to different levels and we manage pain in unique ways,” Dr MacDermott says. “Try to think of a phrase you can say to loved ones when you need to take a break such as, ‘I’ll be upstairs for 20 minutes and be right back,’ and they know what that means.”

Tips for Managing Pain During the Holidays

“Sometimes we just think of the big, bulky, or heavy tasks as exacerbating pain. But it is also important to think about the awkward positions and repetitive movements,” MacDermott adds. “Something that seems as harmless as sitting on the floor wrapping presents where you are continuously reaching for the same items (scissors, tape, bows, tags) could cause strain or pain.”

MacDermott also recommends considering the time of day for tasks.

“Think about doing certain activities to reflect when your pain levels are throughout the day. Depending on your condition, some people may have more pain in the morning (cold and stiff) and need to engage in exercise or move around to loosen up,” she says.

“Others may have more pain at the end of the day as a result of too many activities. For some activities, you can control the time of day when you can initiate activities and space them out.”

Pacing is the concept of breaking down an activity and pacing yourself through the steps throughout a longer period of time.

“It’s very difficult psychologically to not be able to complete an activity all at once, but it may cause an unintended pain flare-up. An important aspect of pacing is to take regular short breaks before the pain becomes very strong and alternating between tasks and activities,” she advises.

“Think about how long it takes you do to an activity, then take at least twenty percent off that time to stop and take a break. We all don’t walk around with a timer, so I find it more helpful to break an activity into ‘chunks’ and take natural breaks in-between,” MacDermott adds.

A break can involve resting or just doing a different activity that does not involve the same movements. If you are standing, sit. If you are sitting, walk around. If you are crouching on the floor, get up and do something else.

[Source: University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences]