Christmas is a wonderful time of the year for most. We have chance to relax and spend time with friends and family. But all too often, our osteopaths and physiotherapists see people coming into clinic with pains related to the holidays! Here’s some advice on how to avoid Christmas aches.
Christmas Aches 1 – Long-distance driving
Christmas time often means visiting family in far-flung places. You might be putting in some serious hours in the car – especially with those notorious Christmas traffic jams!
Trying to make it to Gran’s in time for mince pies might mean negotiating motorways, unusual routes, heavy traffic and night-time driving. All these can build up stress, tension and headaches.
On top of that, long periods spent in the car seat can aggravate back pain.
Here are a few suggestions to help you arrive ready to enjoy Christmas.
Our top tips for driving
You might remember to check the oil and tyre pressures before making a long journey, but do you think about car ergonomics?
Minor adjustments to your car seat and steering wheel can make the difference over a long car journey.
Raise your seat. Ideally, your knees should be no higher than your hips. This will take pressure off your low back.
Adjust the rake of the seat back so you’re slightly reclined and fully supported – around 100o to 110o.
Then adjust your steering wheel so you can reach it comfortably with your elbows slightly bent while feeling your shoulder blades against the seat.
If you have a lumbar adjustment, play around with it till you feel support in your low back. If not, you can buy a lumbar support, or use a small cushion or rolled-up towel.
For more details, try this guide from Driving Ergonomics at Loughborough University.
Once your seat is all set, adjust the mirrors for maximum visibility. Then, during your drive, if you find your visibility is reduced, that means your posture has changed. Reset your posture to return to best visibility.
It’s easy to get dehydrated when driving. This is especially true if you have the air conditioning on, as it has a drying effect.
Dehydration can affect your concentration and aggravate tension headaches.
Keep a bottle of water to hand. Use a sports cap so you can easily take a sip without having to deal with a bottle lid.
3. Stress relief
If you find you start to feel stressed and tense, try this simple exercise. Press the base of your skull into the headrest. Take a deep breath in and hold for a count of two. Then blow out slowly through your lips and relax your head and shoulders.
Christmas Aches 2 – Sleeping in the spare bed
Ever returned as an adult to your childhood house and had to sleep in the tiny bed you used as a youngster? Or, even worse, been relegated to the sofa bed or camp bed?
Your bed and mattress are worth spending good money on. However, Christmas is the time of year you may have to put up with less-than-ideal furniture.
If you wake up feeling like you’ve aged a few decades overnight, try these tips to help.
Our top tips for a good night’s sleep
1. The perfect pillow
Take your own pillow. A well-supported neck can really boost your comfort levels.
2. Get comfortable
Change your sleeping position. Try sleeping in ‘recovery’ position, with one leg bent up, and rest your upper knee and arm on a couple of pillows.
A sagging bedframe or old mattress can be a nightmare for backache sufferers. If the bed’s not up to scratch, consider popping sofa cushions or even a couple of duvets on the floor, and sleeping there instead.
3. Kickstart your morning
If you wake up stiff and sore, loosen up with a few stretches:
- Before you get up, lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the bed. Then roll your pelvis back and forward on the bed, arching and flattening your low back.
- Next, drop your knees slowly to one side, then the other.
- Once you’re standing up, slowly slide your hand down the outside of your leg. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Christmas Aches 3 – Lack of shuteye
It might be a holiday, but many of us fail to get enough sleep over the Christmas break!
Poor sleep can leave us vulnerable to aches and pains.
Here’s our guide to ensuring you get a full recharge.
Our top tips for sleep
1. Don’t burn the candle at both ends
You want to sit up till the early hours, catching up with friends and family, but the children are still bouncing out of bed at 6am?
Enlist the help of other family members to watch the children in the morning. Grandparents, aunts and uncles may not have this chance often, and may enjoy some quality time with the little ones.
Use a child-friendly clock or an alarm. Tell the kids they can get up only when the clock says so. Provide some suitable books or entertainment to occupy them while they wait.
2. Avoid devices
Don’t check your phone or laptop just before bed. The blue light from screens is known to disrupt sleep. And that email from your work colleague can wait!
3. Enjoy yourself (sensibly)
Eat, drink and be merry! But do it a good three hours before bed to avoid your digestive system affecting your ability to sleep.
4. Boost your sleep
If you struggle to get enough night-time rest, take a power nap during the day. Just 20–40 minutes can have a beneficial effect on mood, memory and cognitive function.
Christmas Aches 4 – Sofa slump
Between the Christmas movies and the King’s speech, you might find yourself on the sofa more than usual.
Sofas are more often designed with looks in mind than for good support. When you’re resting without proper joint support, your ligaments are under strain. This can make you feel stiff and achy.
Try these ideas to counteract the effects of the sofa on your back, neck and shoulders.
Our top tips for sofa aches
1. Support yourself
Use small cushions behind your back to avoid a slumped posture.
If the sofa seat is too deep for you, use a footrest for support.
2. Keep moving
Don’t sit in one position for too long. Shift around every 30–45 minutes to prevent aches building up.
Get up and have a stretch regularly, or do a few stretches in your seat.
3. Change where you sit
Shift to the floor for a while. Try sitting cross-legged, or indulge in a few stretches while you’re there!
Christmas Aches 5 – Desiccated discs
If your daily fluid intake progresses from morning espresso to a lunchtime beer, followed by pre-dinner cocktails, then maybe a glass of wine – you’re probably not optimally hydrated!
Dehydration shows itself in brain fog, tension headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue and nausea. But did you know it can give you an achy back, too?
Overall, our bodies contain around 55–60% water. But for healthy joint cartilage, that amount jumps to 70–80%, and up to 90% in the intervertebral discs of the spine.
The spinal discs naturally lose some water over the day, due to the compressive load they bear. So it’s important to make sure you take in enough water to get those discs back to full hydration.
Keep these ideas in mind to help you stay fully hydrated.
Our tips for staying hydrated
1. Enjoy your water!
Keep a jug of water with fruit and mint in the fridge. Use a filter jug so your tap water tastes great. Add a dash of cordial for flavour.
2. Mix it up
Try a variety of drinks. It’s best to avoid sugary drinks, but there are plenty of other options. Try decaffeinated or herbal teas, diluted juices, or even mixers such as sugar-free tonic water. Just remember not to add the gin!
3. Carry a water bottle
Take it with you when you’re out and about. If you practice drinking little and often, you’ll soon find you notice the difference. Then you’ll develop an urge to drink more – it’s a virtuous cycle!
If you’re at a drinks party, have a glass of water after each alcoholic drink. Your back will thank you, and so will your head the next morning!
Enjoy your Christmas break!
We hope these tips give you some ideas on how to stay pain-free over Christmas.
If, however, you need some help dealing with aches and pains, we’re here for you! Book with one of our physiotherapists or osteopaths using the online diary.
Wishing you a very happy Christmas from all at Woodside Clinic!