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Health & Exercise Forum

Will Santa Bring You a Backache?

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Dec 14, 2009

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumHoliday shopping is stressful to your body as well as your wallet. Driving from store to store, getting in and out of the car, bundled in a sweater and winter coat, the expert shopper carries package after package from the store, to the car, over and over again. Six, eight, or ten hours later, the shopper arrives home exhausted, only to realize that 15, or 20 packages must be carried from the car into the house. This dilemma is compounded by the fact that the rain turned to sleet, and the sleet to snow. Travel by car and foot are treacherous. You are slipping and sliding all the way from the car to the house while carrying multiple packages of various sizes and shapes. The shopping bags get wet and tear, forcing you to tilt your body as you carry the packages. Of course, your family is not home to help you unload the car and you make the trip several times alone. You get into the house exhausted and crash onto the couch. You fall asleep slouched and slumped in an overstuffed pillow chair. Hours later you wake up with a stiff neck and lower back pain. You wonder what happened to your neck and back. Consider the following:

  • Lack of sleep and stress – can cause your muscles to tighten up and spasm.
    • Try to get a good night sleep before a day of shopping
    • Lessen the stress by preparing a shopping list, organizing a sequence to visit stores in a logical order
    • Try not to “do it all” in one shopping day.
  • Driving Long Distances or Getting in and out of the car multiple times
    • Prolonged sitting and driving, especially with poor posture is very stressful to the neck and back
    • Getting in and out of the car, twisting and turning multiple times, especially with bulky clothing, is very stressful to the neck and back
    • Use a lumbar roll when sitting in the car
    • Sit up straight and adjust seat closer to steering wheel and limit reaching with arms and slouching
    • Use the headrest for your neck on the highway
    • Get out and stretch backwards to extend your neck and back every 45-60 minutes in the car
  • Carrying packages –
    • Make a few extra trips to the car to drop off packages before they accumulate
    • Multiple packages of different sizes and shapes, especially with torn bags or without handles make your neck and back vulnerable
    • Bending over to browse through or paying for items, especially while holding your purse or other packages, makes your neck and back strain
    • Bending over and twisting to put items in the car and trunk makes you vulnerable to back pain
    • Use good quality shopping bags and a cart when possible
    • Put down items when browsing or paying
    • Do stretching exercises bending you neck backwards, extending your lower back and pinch your shoulder blades together 10 times every 30 minutes of shopping
    • Use a lightweight purse when shopping or use a wallet and leave the purse at home
  • Slipping and twisting –
    • Twisting and slipping while carrying packages can twist and strain your back or neck
    • Be extra careful in bad weather by wearing good shoes with a nonskid sole
    • Switch sides, alternating from right to left when you carry your packages and your purse
  • Resting or sleeping in a slouched position
    • Falling asleep on too many pillows or with your neck twisted is very bad for your neck and your lower back in a hammock position is very bad for your lower back
    • Make sure to lie down flat, with one pillow for your neck and maybe one under your knees
    • If you sit, use a lumbar roll in the small of your lower back
  • Poor Footwear
    • Heels and most dress shoes may look good but don’t cut it for shopping support
    • Wear comfortable shoes with good support like you wear to walk at Disney
  • Pamper Yourself  -After all your hard work, in the spirit of the spirit of the holidays, treat yourself to some great relaxation with the aid of:
    • A Full Body Massage
    • A Foot Massage
    • A Pedicure
    • A Whirlpool Bath
    • Some Wine and Cheese

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of Scranton, PT Dept.