Are the Holidays Hazardous to Your Health?

To many people, the holidays are a magical time. But there's no magical way to get all the shopping, decorating, cooking, cleaning and travelling done without the risk of stress, exhaustion and even injury. "This is a wonderful time of year, but it can actually be quite dangerous," says Sam Bayoumy, PT, Director of Rehabilitation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. "In trying to get it all done, we often rush around and ignore our surroundings, our bodies, and the basic rules of safety."
To maximize the joys of the season and minimize the risk of injury, Kessler Institute, a leader in the field of medical rehabilitation, offers the following recommendations:

"We see significant injuries to the shoulder, neck and upper and lower back due to carrying bags that are too heavy or too large," says Jeffrey M. Cole, M.D., Kessler's director of electrodiagnostic medicine and musculoskeletal rehabilitation. "Strains and sprains are the most common injuries and can be extremely painful, sometimes resulting in permanent damage. While most injuries can be treated with medication, rest, and/or occupational therapy, the best 'cure' is to avoid injury in the first place."

  • When carrying bags and packages, distribute the weight between both arms.
  • Ask for assistance in lifting or moving larger items or when reaching for items on high shelves.
  • Be alert to stacked displays and items on the floor as they can be hazardous.
  • Be particularly careful on escalators as shopping bags, handbags, and coats can impact your balance.
  • Don't overdo it: take a break, stay hydrated and wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.

Not surprisingly, decorating is one of the leading causes of holiday-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, falls account for 12% of seasonal emergency room visits, up from 9% the rest of the year, and 43% were related to falls from ladders. The majority of falls affected individuals aged 20-49 years and men were 40% more likely to be injured than women.

  • Cleaning and decorating can be strenuous exercise, therefore it's important to stretch before and after going about these chores.
  • Before using a ladder or step stool, make sure it is sturdy, balanced and in good condition. Have someone hold it in place.
  • When lifting, carrying or moving objects, bend at the knees and lift with your legs to avoid back injuries.
  • Keep rooms – especially hallways and stairways -- clutter-free and well-lit. Remove scatter rugs and other furniture that could cause injury.
  • Move wires or tape them down to minimize tripping hazards.
  • Wipe spills immediately to avoid the risk of slips and falls.

Whether by car, train, bus or plane, millions of American will be travelling over the holidays. Obviously, it's most important to wear a seatbelt, drive with extra caution because of the increased traffic, and observe the usual transportation rules. In addition, notes Kessler occupational therapist Kim Hreha, "Given the fact that more than 55,000 individuals in the U.S. sustain serious injuries to the back, shoulders and neck each year due to carrying luggage, it's also important to pack and lift wisely."

  • Use suitcases, totes and duffle bags with wheels.
  • Use proper lifting techniques and avoid twisting or reaching when putting luggage in the car, in overhead compartments, etc.
  • Consider shipping gifts and other items, particularly heavy ones, in advance rather than trying to pack them.
  • If travelling longer distances, be sure to take a break, stand and stretch, and stay refreshed.

When faced with the holidays, many people experience headaches, nervousness, muscle tension and a lack of energy. Mood swings, irritability, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and depression are also among the more common symptoms of holiday stress. According to Kessler psychologist Gerard Donahue, "While this can be an overwhelming time of year, there are a number of simple ways to help reduce stress and put the many tasks at hand in perspective."

  • Whether you take a walk, go to the gym, or even go dancing, exercise can be an excellent tension reliever. It can also help to burn some of those extra calories from holiday cookies.
  • Make time for yourself. Watch a favorite movie, read a book or call an old friend, and get sufficient rest.
  • Enlist the help of family, friends and neighbors. Consider sharing tasks. After all, the holidays are a time for reaching out to others.
  • Be realistic and set reasonable goals. Don't try to do more than you can. And be sure to take the time to remember the true magic and miracles of this season.