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4 Ways Thanksgiving Is Tough On Your Spine… And What You Can Do to Stay Healthy

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at the Spine Health Institute! As we head into the holidays, we thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the ways that people commonly put themselves at risk for back pain this season, along with the best means of safeguarding your spine from such problems.   

1. What you eat – and how much you eat – makes a big difference to your spine on Thanksgiving.

We’ll start with the obvious – which is all that food that gets consumed on “turkey day,” as well as the days that follow. Understanding that Nov. 26 is essentially the kickoff of an entire season in which people are liable to overconsume and gain weight, it’s important to try and limit the amount you eat at each setting to a normal dinner portion. One way to accomplish this is by eating slowly and then moving away from the dining table within a reasonable amount of time, rather than sitting there for an extended period with food piled high in front of you.

Remember that leftovers are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving, and save some for later if you want to avoid putting undue stresses on your back – which is what happens when you add those extra pounds and stay seated for hours on end.  Try taking a break between dinner and desert to go for a walk with your family, or at least get up and move some between courses.

That said, it’s not just the volume of food, but the kind of food that you consume over the holidays that matters to your spine. Especially if you suffer from chronic back pain, you need to avoid foods that promote inflammation and focus on those that fight it. This means limiting your intake of sugar-laden foods, milk, refined grains, saturated fats and trans fats, refined carbohydrates, MSG, gluten and alcohol.

The good news is that plenty of the foods that are traditionally served at Thanksgiving have serious health benefits in terms of their nutrients and/or inflammation-fighting properties. This includes the turkey itself (assuming it isn’t fried) as well as things like nuts, leafy vegetables and red beets. See below for a few of the best and worst foods for back pain this Thanksgiving, and read more about nutritious ways of combatting back pain here.

Examples of spine-healthy Thanksgiving foods include:
  • Roasted turkey
  • Almonds and walnuts
  • Red beets
  • Cranberries
  • Spinach salad
  • Stewed tomatoes
  • Coffee
Thanksgiving foods that can increase inflammation and back pain include:
  • Pumpkin pie and other sugar-filled desserts
  • White bread, stuffing, rolls and pastries
  • Milk, margarine, shortening and lard
  • Fried foods and processed meats

2. Inactivity is your spine’s No. 1 enemy – but be careful about the physical activity you decide to pursue.

It’s a time-honored tradition in many households -- sitting around the TV both before and after the big meal. From the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to the pro football game and all those wonderful Thanksgiving specials, it’s no wonder that we spend a lot of time on the couch on this particular holiday. 

We’ve talked many times about the importance of staying active if you want to avoid unnecessary back pain, and while busy holiday schedules can undoubtedly play havoc on your exercise routine, this is no time to be sedentary. Not only does regular aerobic exercise help you keep off the extra weight, but it can also help minimize your back pain and stress as those feel-good endorphins are released. So break up periods of inactivity with a brisk walk or other type of exercise, and your spine will keep you feeling fine this holiday season.

The caveat to this advice is that whatever physical activity you select needs to be right for you. Plenty of people wind up needing to see a doctor after engaging in a holiday football game with family in which they sustained a lumbar strain or other injury. Don’t let this happen to you. If your level of core fitness isn’t ready for football, do something less demanding and stay safe this holiday season.  

3. Preparing the Thanksgiving meal can be as challenging for your back as it is for your culinary skills.

If you’re the chef this Thanksgiving, there are multiple ways that you can hurt your back while making the big meal. Some of these are obvious – for example, hefting a 20 lb. turkey to and from the oven is a prime way to strain your back if you don’t practice proper bending and lifting techniques. But there’s also the stress that’s put on your back from being on your feet all day long and standing at a potentially awkward position at the kitchen counter much of that time. To lessen your chance of experiencing lower back pain, you may want to do your veggie chopping and other tasks while sitting at a table, leaning on a high countertop or resting one foot in an open lower cabinet to reduce the strain on your spine. This quick video demonstrates how to cook dinner in a back-friendly manner.  You may also consider buying or borrowing lightweight pots, dishes and trays to lessen the amount of heavy lifting you have to do.

4. Traveling for Thanksgiving provides multiple opportunities for back pain.

According to AAA, approximately 47 million people in this country will be traveling 50 miles or more for their Thanksgiving dinner this year, with about 90 percent of them going by car. If you’re one of those happy travelers, you may be at risk of back pain caused by everything from lifting heavy suitcases into and out of the trunk to sitting for long periods without the right ergonomic support. Our blog on avoiding back pain during summer road trips is just as applicable this time of year, so read up on some helpful strategies here. Of course, air travel can be equally tough on your back, so here also are some tips on avoiding back pain if you’re flying home for Thanksgiving this year.

See our Thanksgiving Survival Guide for Your Spine for more strategies aimed at keeping your back comfortable and safe this season. And if chronic back or neck pain continues to hinder your enjoyment of the holidays, consider consulting a specialist like Dr. Chetan Patel at the Spine Health Institute for a thorough medical evaluation and nonsurgical to advanced treatment options. Contact our patient coordinator at 407.303.5452 or click on the “Book Online” button at the top of this page.

 

References

Tips for Controlling Pain While Cooking for Thanksgiving (01/09/2014). Retrieved from HealthCentral.com: http://www.healthcentral.com/slideshows/controlling-pain-while-you-cook/

Tips to Avoid Back Pain at the Table (12/10/09). Retrieved from SpineUniverse.com: http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/back-pain/tips-avoid-back-pain-table

Foods that fight inflammation (07/01/2014). Retrieved from Harvard Health Publications: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

Eight Food Ingredients That Can Cause Inflammation (n.d.). Retrieved from Arthritis.org:  http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/foods-to-avoid-limit/food-ingredients-and-inflammation.php

AAA: Nearly 47M Americans will travel for Thanksgiving (11/17/2015). Retrieved from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/11/17/aaa-thanksgiving-travel/75921872/