Christmas and New Year can be very stressful times, with lots of things to do, social activities to attend to, shopping, visiting family, office parties, and many changes to your normal routine that can compromise your nutrition, exercise, and healthy regimes leading to increased risk of neck pain. Throw in the fact you have a chronic condition such as spinal stenosis, cervical arthritis, degenerative joint disease, or a bulging disc, and this all becomes even harder to manage without doing yourself some damage. Below are some top tips for neck pain relief during the holiday season.
Neck Pain, and Holiday Indulgences
We all like to indulge a little at Christmas, with the average American gaining about 8lbs over the holiday period, and this can have an impact on your levels of pain and your enjoyment of the festivities. Obesity, neck pain, and back pain are linked; those who are overweight produce more inflammatory cytokines, making pain levels higher than for their slimmer counterparts. More weight also puts more strain on your muscles and skeleton, which can trigger flare-ups of an underlying condition, or exacerbate a bulging disc to the point of herniation. Making sure to keep your diet healthy, not to overindulge at office parties, or drink too much mulled wine can help to keep that extra, problematic, weight off. Sticking to your gym routine might be tricky if the weather conspires against you, but gentle exercise such as walking can help prevent joints from stiffening up and keep you feeling energetic and pain-free during Christmas.
Neck Pain and Shopping SafelyTrawling the shops might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it seems to be a necessity at Christmas for a lot of people. Carrying awkward presents, or heavy bags, can put pressure on your spine and strain your shoulder muscles, leading to neck and shoulder pain, exacerbation of musculoskeletal conditions like fibromyalgia, and increasing the likelihood of disc herniation and pinched nerves in the neck. Take things as easy as you can, try to distribute weight evenly by using a suitable sized backpack, or snazzy shopping trolley, and give your overburdened shoulders a rest by having a well-earned tea break mid shopping-spree. This will also have the added benefit of keeping you warm, as winter chills can lead to back and neck pain, and even a stiff neck.
Neck Pain and Christmas – Preparation is Key
Wrap up well in those winter-woolens and if you plan on sitting at any carol recitals or brass band performances. Remember to take a thick blanket or cushion to sit on to prevent a numb or painful posterior, particularly if you have lumbar spinal stenosis and sciatica due to degenerative disc disease throughout the spine. Wearing comfortable shoes, possibly with orthopedic inserts, can really help if you intend to be out walking from one store to another as these can help prevent strain on your back which can lead to postural changes and neck pain. Avoiding those high heels could mean the difference between spending the next day in bed and enjoying the school play you were hoping to attend.
Decorating for Christmas with Neck Pain
Wearing sensible shoes is also good advice for when hanging Christmas decorations. Tottering in three inch heels on a rickety stool whilst stretching into the window to hang that final snowflake is just asking for trouble. Make sure to have someone help, use a safe ladder, and do not overstretch. No one really cares if the tinsel is slightly lopsided, or if Santa’s hat is a little askew. Blame it on the sherry. Speaking of sherry, be careful of that mistletoe as bending down, or stretching up, for that Christmas kiss will be a lot less romantic if you herniate a disc in the process. The tried and tested method of standing on a phone directory should help; safety first remember.
Neck Pain, Drugs, and Alcohol
Many of you with chronic or acute neck pain will be managing the pain through NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and other analgesics and anti-inflammatories. Mixing these with alcohol is not the best idea as they can overtax the liver and cause, or exacerbate, further side-effects and long-term damage. Mixing alcohol with muscle relaxants for neck pain is a particularly bad idea. Alcohol itself is an inflammatory agent and can make pain worse… especially if coupled with an excruciating hangover. It is also dehydrating and can increase the likelihood of you smoking, even if you’ve quit. Both dehydration and smoking are key risk factors for disc degeneration.
Coping with Neck Pain at Christmas
Whilst a steaming mug of mulled wine will usually cause few problems, downing a whole bottle of Christmas Chianti to cope with the family is unlikely to do anyone any favors. In addition, alcohol does not have the best reputation for leading to clear and rational thinking. Sledging down a bank on a misappropriated road-sign after a few too many is a sure-fire way to incur some kind of spinal injury, and dancing all night to Christmas tunes can also stress the neck in numerous ways. Moderation is key for most things, whilst some things simply need avoiding. If you’re on medications that say ‘do not take with alcohol’ remember that this is designed to protect your health, not just spoil your fun.
Whiplash, Neck Pain, and Icy Christmas Road Conditions
The winter weather often causes people problems with driving, and poor visibility coupled with icy roads can lead to more accidents than usual. Even a minor bump can cause whiplash or exacerbate spinal stenosis, and disc bulging, that is already present. Symptoms often do not show up straight away, sometimes only appearing a few days after the incident and remaining unconnected by the sufferer to that little prang on the way to the shops. If you have a collision, however minor, it is important to get checked out as fractures of the vertebrae, disc compression and herniation, and ligament damage can all cause chronic neck pain, dizziness, and other symptoms of whiplash associated disorder if they are not addressed. Drive safely and make sure to have snow-chains on as appropriate. If the weather is too bad to go out, don’t, not even to get that last-minute gift for the cousin you forgot was coming to dinner.
Back Care at Christmas
Remember your limits. If you have a chronic condition such as spinal stenosis, ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, or cervical arthritis, Christmas does not magically make that disappear and allow you to become an all-night party animal. Dancing the Charleston, CanCan, or doing the Locomotion, may be fun at the time, but your body will not thank you for all that twisting and turning the next day. Remember to take your neck pain medications and that alcohol does not always mix well with these. Try not to start any new treatments for neck pain at this time of year as the stress and alteration to routine is unlikely to give a fair appraisal of their efficacy.
Neck Pain Nutrition
Additionally, sugary sweets and drinks, like eggnog, hot-chocolate, and alcohol, cause increased inflammation in the body, which is likely to make your joint pain worse. If you’re taking antacids for hangovers, remember that these can compromise nutrient absorption from every accompanying meal. Coupled with lack of sunlight and, perhaps, a less nutritionally balanced diet due to special Christmas treats, this time of year can find many people with low vitamin D levels, with ramifications for musculoskeletal pain, poor immune-system regulation, and poor mineralization of the bones. If you have neck surgery scheduled for the new year then you should discuss this with your physician as evidence is mounting that low vitamin D levels are linked to failed back surgery syndrome. Eating oily fish, such as herring, or mackerel, or taking a supplement should ensure you are getting enough of this vital vitamin.
Relaxation for Neck Pain at Christmas
Stay wrapped up warm, use heat-pads, and have relaxing hot baths with a little lavender and rosemary oil mixed in to aid neck muscle relaxation. Bend at the knees, keeping your back straight, when lifting the oversized turkey out of the oven or, better yet, get someone without neck pain to do the heavy lifting. Don’t spend too long trying to beat the kids at their new bowling game on the Wii, but remember to get some regular exercise, be it walking, yoga, or cycling with neck pain. Above all, have fun, as happiness and laughter are two of the best painkillers we have at our disposal!