Last updated: Dec 01, 2007

Dashing through the snow laden with shopping bags. Hanging off the ladder to put up the mistletoe. Lifting the suitcase into the car. No wonder your back hurts.



Aches and pains that pop up over the holidays are no surprise to Charles Rosen, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center, who says he sees a pattern of injuries every December. “One bad twist, stretch, or bend can cause pressure to build up inside the spinal disks in your spine, leading to a tear,” he says.

Avoid holiday strains with Rosens tips and stay limber with our stretches for the season.

Carry on. When toting bags, distribute the weight evenly, so youre not hoisting your giant Kate Spade purse, gym duffel, and shopping bags all on the same side.

Climb right. Using a ladder? Move it in as close to the tree as possible and never stand on the top rung or climb with both hands full. If youre holding something heavy, be sure you have a spotter. And dont reach too far. A good rule of thumb: Dont let your hips extend past the sides of the ladder.

Lift smart. When moving packages, bring the box in close while lifting or lowering, turn your whole body (not just at the waist), and use your legs.

De-stress. Staying calm and cool is good for your back health as well as your general well-being, Rosen says. “Studies show that emotional tension can translate to a physically robotlike state that prevents you from moving easily or fluidly. And that stiffness makes it easier for people to get into awkward positions that can cause them to stress their backs. This is a vicious cycle because once you have back pain, youre even more stressed!”