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Health & Exercise Forum

Holiday Cooking Can be a Pain in the Neck: Part 2 of 2

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Dec 29, 2009

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumGuest Contributor: Judi Mackarey, Esq.

Last week’s article shared some of my fondest Christmas memories.  For me, they are evoked by the smells and tastes of the holiday meals prepared with love by my Italian grandmother (or, as we affectionately called her, Noni).  For our family, Christmas Eve was not just the night before Christmas; it was a celebration unto itself.  My mother’s mother, Rosina Scalese, did more than turn on an oven as she transformed groceries into dinner. Planning, preparing, and shopping in preparation for the feast began the day after Thanksgiving.  When my grandmother was in charge, my mother Angie Scalese Mackarey, was her sous chef.  She was also responsible for desserts.  Like Noni, her pastry making started at Thanksgiving.  Weekly, batches of cookies were baked, and then stored in Charlie Chip cans. Unfortunately for us kids, other than a taste as they were coming out of the oven, the cookies were off limits until Christmas.

Mom will be making her annual visit from Florida for the holidays.  A portable chest will be filled with items she has pre-prepared and once home; she will continue the tradition of the Christmas Eve gastronomic feast. She has also inherited the back, neck pain and headaches associated with long hours of food preparation. And I have inherited the job as assistant chef.  For those who think all Italian males are like those portrayed on the “Sopranos,” I enjoy helping my wife and mother in the kitchen.  Happy Holidays!

Make your Holidays more enjoyable by following these simple guidelines, which will assist in preventing or diminishing pain that originates from your spine.

Proper body mechanics are based on good posture. Proper body mechanics involve maintaining a neutral spine with transitions from one position to another during daily activities.

Driving: Seatback should be vertical. Back/neck supported with chin level. Move seat close to allow knees to bend and feet to reach pedals. Knees are at same height or slightly higher than hips. With hands on wheel elbows are slightly bent and relaxed. Place hands on wheel at 9 and 3 o’clock to relax shoulders. A lumbar roll is recommended.

Standing: Face work directly.  Adjust height of table to allow good posture. If not possible, get closer to work by sitting/kneeling. Elevate one foot on a stool or box (weight shift). Change feet every 5 to 15 minutes.


  • Perform “waiter’s bow”: bend at hips with arch in low back. Buttocks moves backward as trunk inclines forward. Head forward/feet apart.
  • Perform weight-lifter’s squat: assume waiter’s bow position then squat as if sitting. Knees should not go past toes. Buttocks should stick out with arch in low back. The bow and squat will become one motion. Head forward and feet apart.
  • Lifting from floor: Push with foot to determine feasibility (if large in size/awkward in shape get assistance). Get close to/directly facing object. Feet apart, one ahead of the other with toes out. Perform weight-lifter’s squat. Tighten stomach muscles and lift using leg muscles. Do not look down. Hips/knees should straighten simultaneously. Stand upright without twisting/jerking. Reverse this procedure to lower object.
  • Lifting  lightweight object:
  • Perform golfer’s lift: Face the object. Place body weight on one leg. Place opposite hand on a sturdy object for balance. Slightly bend the weighted knee. As trunk inclines forward from hip allow unweighted leg to extend backwards.  Reverse the steps to return to standing.
  • Lifting from table/counter: Get close to/directly facing object. Feet apart. Use waiter’s bow to slide object to edge. Then follow “lifting from floor”.
  • Carrying: Hold object at belly button with elbows bent. Keep stomach muscles tight. Take small, slow steps. To change directions, use feet to pivot.
  • Reaching and lifting: If higher than nose, use stepstool/ladder.  Get close to object. Slide object close to edge. Lift with elbows bent and with two hands.
  • Loading/unloading: Easiest at waist height.
  • Pushing: Never pull! Use leg muscles/body weight to move object. Get close to and in line with object. Same body mechanics hold for pushing as bending/lifting.
  • Coughing and sneezing: Stand up and bend slightly backwards to increase curve in lower back.
  • Performing tasks on floor/ground: Consider all fours position since kneeling/squatting can injure the knees.

Good posture for prolonged periods or repetitive activity even with good body mechanics induces abnormal stresses on the body and leads to pain. Therefore, take breaks and move every fifteen to thirty minutes. Stretch your neck backwards, pinch your shoulder blades together and extend your lower back. This will help prevent muscle fatigue/tightness, joint stiffness, and reduced circulation.

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.