Simple Tips to Help Prevent Holiday Back and Neck Pain

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
December 14, 2016
Preventing Holiday Aches and Pains

Nearly all of us experience back and neck pain at some point. It doesn’t matter if it’s occasional or every day--when it happens, it significantly affects your quality of life. Unfortunately, holiday stress and preparations are common triggers for pain. Here are some tips that can help prevent neck and back pain this holiday season.

Back-Friendly Shopping

Online shopping is probably the most back-friendly option for shopping. But if you prefer mall shopping, keep in the mind, hard floor surfaces, unsupportive footwear and long lines can lead to a type of low back pain referred to as “mall back." To prevent it, try:

  • Shopping during off times. When malls and supermarkets are less crowded, you can park closer to the entrance and have less chance of being pushed or shoved by other shoppers. It’s also much easier to maneuver around a store.
  • Using a cart instead of a basket.
  • Asking for help if an item is either too high or low for you to reach.
  • Wearing appropriate shopping attire. Swap your stylish shoes for comfortable, supportive, well-cushioned sneakers or walking shoes. Ditch your oversized bag in favor of a smaller purse or better yet, a fanny pack or cross-body bag.
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Taking breaks. Find a bench and sit for a few minutes. If it’s not too much trouble, bring a lumbar support pillow and/or portable, battery-operated heating pad with you.
  • Avoiding lifting and/or carrying heavy items. If possible, take someone with you on shopping trips or ask staff members for help. Grocery store employees can help you carry bundles to your car and department stores may hold your purchases while you continue shopping elsewhere in the mall.

Scheduling Some Physical Activity

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can leave you with little time to work out. But exercise helps prevent muscle tightness and spasms commonly experienced when traveling, wrapping gifts and shopping. Fit physical activity into your day by:

  • Scheduling workouts as if they were appointments.
  • Performing some basic core exercises during commercial breaks as you watch television.
  • Using your shopping trip as a workout.

Controlling Holiday Stress

Family tension, financial stress and time constraints contribute to tight muscles that spasm and trigger pain in the back and neck. Try preventing neck and back pain with these simple relaxation techniques.

Socializing Strategically

When you think of back pain, holiday festivities may not come to mind immediately, but it can be a cause. Dodge party-related pain by:

  • Opting for flats. This may be the season to break out your best shoes but high heels, particularly higher than three inches can disrupt your normal walking pattern and weight distribution, causing back pain.
  • Skipping adult beverages. Alcohol causes dehydration which affects tissue elasticity, joint fluidity and disc height.
  • Ending your night a little earlier to make sure you get enough rest. When you skimp on sleep your body doesn’t get enough time to recover from daily stressors. An article published in Pain Science explained that sleep deprivation can aggravate trigger points, increase muscle tenderness and intensify pain sensitivity.

Prevent Back Pain with Diet

Some experts believe that certain nutrients that support bone, joint and tissue health, and reduce inflammation may help to alleviate back pain and speed up recovery of a back pain flare-up.  

  • Protein – is needed for growth, maintenance and repair of tissues. Some experts believe that animal protein may cause some inflammation and pain that eating complete plant proteins can hasten the recovery process. Sources include lean red meat, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, dairy products, green pea, quinoa, nuts/nut butters and beans.
  • B-complex vitamins – help ease nerve pain. Sources include dark green leafy vegetables, berries, whole grains, dairy products, seafood, poultry, red meat, bananas, potatoes and eggs.  
  • Serrapepetase and nattokinase enzymes – help break down fibrin, a protein needed for blood clotting. However, an excessive accumulation of these enzymes can lead to scar tissue, inflammation and pain. Sources include pineapple, papaya and kiwi.    
  • Vitamin C – is needed to form collagen, the main structural protein in connective tissue like skin, bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers and broccoli.
  • Vitamin E – improves circulation and the immune system, which repairs damaged tissue and can ease pain. Sources include wheat germ, almonds and sunflower seeds.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – might be able to ease pain, as it has anti-inflammatory properties. Sources include walnuts, salmon, sardines, soybeans and tofu.
  • Natural anti-inflammatories – reduces inflammation associated with pain. Sources include ginger, turmeric and cinnamon.
  • Magnesium – helps muscles contract and relax. Sources include whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, avocados and green leafy vegetables.

Prevent Back Pain Caused by Traveling

Even if your back is healthy, pain can set in after carrying luggage. Avoid injuries by:

  • Keeping luggage as light as possible and equally weighted. This will minimize back strain and prevent your body from leaning to one side when carrying the bags.
  • Packing heaviest items on the bottom of your suitcase and the lightest on top. This will help you carry heavier items closer to your torso, which is easier on your body.
  • Using backpacks, messenger bags and/or rolling luggage. 

Planning for Holiday Pain

If you suffer with seasonal back and neck pain, keep over-the-counter pain medication on hand. Make sure to refill your prescriptions before the pharmacies close for the holidays and take them as directed. Don’t skip dosages in favor of your favorite holiday punch or eggnog. Lastly, consider adding the following items to your holiday wish list.

  • Pillows to support your neck and to place in between your knees while sleeping
  • Heating pads, ice packs and/or moist heat packs
  • Orthopedic back support for sitting
  • Ergonomic supports for your wrists
  • Headset for your telephone
  • Exercise mat for stretching
  • Gift certificate for a massage

Keep your MDVIP-affiliated physician informed at the onset of your back and neck pain. He/she can help you determine the root cause of the pain and take steps to help alleviate your pain such as lowering cholesterol medication, changing your diet, beginning an exercise program or referring your to a specialist. Need an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? Click here to find a physician near you


This blog was reviewed and updated on December 10, 2021.

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Ease Some of Your Holiday Stress With These Simple Tips / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / November 18, 2016
Simple Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / December 3, 2020

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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