Shoppers hurried through the aisles in Target during Black Friday. Credit: Getty Images
Thousands of Americans sustain winter-related back injuries every year, including many injuries directly related to holiday activities such as shopping. According to Dr. Michael A. Gleiber, a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon in Florida, standing on long lines, carrying heavy shopping bags and even sitting at your desk in front of your computer for prolonged periods of time surfing the retail web sites can definitely cause low back, neck and shoulder pain or worsen an existing back problem. Here are his tips for staying injury-free:
Shop during the off-peak hours to avoid having to stand on long lines and walk through crowded areas.
Leave your designer shoes at home. Wear comfortable shoes with cushioning in the sole to absorb the impact of walking on hard floors. And although Ugg boots have become a go-to winter footwear, unfortunately, these shoes do not offer proper support. “Ugg boots are designed like slippers. As the foot slides around, you get wear and tear on the joints on the inside of the foot,” says Dr. Gleiber. "The ankle is in the wrong position, the thigh bone also changes position, and you get an abnormal movement in the pelvis, which leads to back problems.”
Carry a small sized handbag if you’re planning on an all-day shopping trip. “Inside a typical handbag, you may find a phone, iPad, wallet, makeup bag, a bottle of water, book or magazine,” says Dr. Gleiber. “They seem like little things, but they add weight -- up to 10 pounds -- and carrying all that weight can cause shoulder and neck pain.” According to Dr. Gleiber, when it comes to fashion, putting extra weight on one side of your body is one of the biggest back pain causes. Any time you carry weight on one side of your body for an extended period of time, it causes your spine to curve, and that leads to back pain symptoms. Choose a bag that you can wear diagonally across your body rather than a single-strap bag that rests on one shoulder. When you can't avoid using a single-strap bag, be conscious of changing the sides you use to carry it.
If you’re planning on checking off everything on your holiday shopping list on one visit, make sure not to carry too many heavy bags at once. Distribute the weight of shopping bags evenly, and avoid carrying bags for too long. Walk back to the parking lot and drop them off in your car – make sure to lock them safely in your trunk!
If you’re going to take advantage of Cyber Monday, sitting in a chair for prolonged periods of time can cause low back pain or worsen an existing back problem. The main reason behind this is that sitting, in a chair or in general, is a static posture that increases stress in the back, shoulders, arms and legs, and in particular, can add large amounts of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs. Regularly stretching shoulders, hip, and hamstrings will increase your flexibility, offering instant relief and preventing back pain. Dr. Gleiber recommends taking mini-breaks when you’re shopping online. “Proper ergonomics is also important. A simple adjustment to your chair height could be the fix you need to end your back pain; and never hunch over a computer. Focus on aligning your head and neck right above your shoulders and avoid straining forward. Ideally, your mouse should be placed right next to your keyboard so you don’t overreach or twist your shoulder, arm or wrist when clicking.”