PT Tips for the Holidays

xmas-lightsNow that we are past Thanksgiving, the holiday season is in full swing. This means different things to each person, but to a physical therapist, it means a repetitive chorus of the following:

“I’m sore, because I didn’t have time to do my stretches or exercises.”
“I’m sore, because I spent a lot of time in the car/in airports.”
“I’m sore, because I was lifting presents/suitcases/a large tree.”
“I’m sore, because I was on my feet a lot cooking/decorating/dancing.”
“I’m sore, because I wore my new fancy shoes to the mall/holiday party/cookie exchange.”
“I’m  sore, because I was sleeping on a lumpy sofa bed while we were traveling.”

Notice a theme here? While PTs don’t have the answers to all the holiday aches and pains, they do have some advice to help stave off your physical pain (the mental pain that your family gatherings cause is a different story).


  • Keep moving and stretching! If you have extra time in an airport, try walking around while you wait, or do some stretches to keep loosened up. If you are driving, take regular stops to get out and move around.  When you are sitting in the car or plane, move your feet up and down.  Part of the reason that traveling makes people more sore is that they are in one position for too long. So be sure to get out of that position as often as possible. As a bonus, not sitting for too long in one place and keeping moving can also reduce the risk of blood clots.
  • Be aware of how you are packing. I know we all like to get as much as we can into a carry on, or as few suitcases as possible into the trunk of a car. However, I know people who have torn a rotator cuff lifting carry on bags overhead, or ruptured a disk wrestling a heavy suitcase into the trunk of a car. I know it’s usually extra to check a bag, but that’s still cheaper than a rotator cuff surgery and repair!
  • If you have the space, bring extra pillows, or if you are at a hotel, ask for extra pillows. You can’t always pick what kind of mattress that you are sleeping on, but extra pillows can help you be more supported. Maybe you can put a pillow between your knees if you are sleeping on your side, or under your knees if you sleep on your back.

Holiday Preparation:

  • Plan ahead. I know it’s easier said than done, but this can make a big difference. Many people have pain after standing in the kitchen all day preparing food. If there is anything that can be made ahead, make it ahead.  After a day (or two or three) of standing in the kitchen all day, we’d all hurt, whether we have any injuries or not. The same is true for wrapping presents. You’d be surprised how many people can aggravate neck pain or back pain from a marathon session of wrapping all the presents for everyone at one go.
  • To give extra support, it is often helpful to rest one foot on a supporting surface. For example, if you are standing at your counter cutting, chopping, etc., try opening that lower cabinet and resting one foot on the bottom shelf to give your back a break. Don’t forget to switch which foot you’re using.
  • Take a break. I know, I know, you have a lot to do and you’re time is limited. A quick break to stretch your arms and back or to sit for a few minutes will not put you too far behind.

General Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Tighten up! No matter what you’re doing, setting your core by lightly tightening abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles (Kegel exercises) will give you better support for your activity and decrease the strain on your body. Be sure that you are not tightening so much that you are holding your breath.  It will help your back, neck and arms with lifting, standing for long periods of time.
  • Fashion is not everything. I know that it’s important to look nice at your various holiday parties, and that you may have fun, new outfits that you want to wear. However, be sure that those killer heels aren’t going to kill your feet by the end of the night.
  • Take care of yourself. I know that you have a lot going on, but do take a few minutes to do any stretches or exercises that you regularly do to keep things feeling good. Your body needs that more than ever with the extra demands of the holiday season.