, Gloucester, MA

December 11, 2009

The top six injuries of the holiday season

On the Mend

Half of the fun of the holiday season is decorating and preparing for guests and festivities. But anyone who has decorated before can tell you this preparation can be a tough, manual job. Every manual task brings with it a certain degree of risk of bodily injury. Fortunately, these injuries are fairly predictable and can occur during the same activities from year to year.

Having knowledge of what happens at periodic intervals throughout the year is a distinct advantage in injury prevention. Here are the chief ways people will sustain injuries this holiday season and how you can easily prevent them.

Hoisting the Christmas tree to the top of the car. Perhaps the best-known icon of the season, the Christmas tree is more dangerous than it looks. Christmas trees are awkwardly shaped and have poorly balanced weight. It is easy to over extend your shoulder while trying to lift a heavy tree onto the roof of the car. More rotator cuffs are torn this way than almost any other way during the holiday season. Get a second pair of hands to help secure it on your car.

Falling from a ladder. In the spirit of decorating, many people hang lights from trees, bushes and other high up, hard to reach places. To do a good job often requires a ladder. Falling from a ladder causes more serious injuries than all other activities combined. The easiest way to be safe on a ladder is to not reach out beyond your base of support. Take the time to climb down and reposition the ladder so you're closer to where the lights need to be placed.

Bending over to water the Christmas tree. Christmas trees need to be watered frequently and the stand always seems to be so far underneath the tree in a hard to reach place. Watering the tree requires a lot of forward bending and puts the discs in your lumbar spine at risk. I would recommend that you sit on the floor and get as close to the stand as possible — this way your back won't be compromised by over-stretching.

Moving heavy presents. Some presents just weigh a lot. Remember to lift with your legs and not with your back, especially when you are placing them under the tree. Nothing ruins holiday cheer like hurting your back moving something you spent a lot of money on. Slide heavier presents and boxes on the floor if you don't have help moving them.

Get comfortable shoes. During the holidays, people — especially women — spend more time on their feet decorating, preparing and cooking than any other time of the year. Wearing shoes with poor support and cushion is an easy way to acquire plantar fasciitis — one of the most common and painful foot disorders. Avoiding sore feet can be as simple as putting your dress shoes on moments before company comes and not wearing them during the preparation.

Make sure your knives are sharp. With all the cooking that comes with the celebrating, you're going to need good, sharp knives to get through the turkey, ham and other dishes you make. The repetitive strain of using a dull knife could give you a case of tennis elbow.

While some of these things seem like common sense, they still cause more accidents and injuries than any other activities. When you're decorating, take the extra minute to ensure you start the next year healthy and happy.

Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He works in the outpatient division of Beverly Hospital and writes "On the Mend" weekly. Questions may be submitted to Joe by e-mail: