Winter Back Safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) , during the 2000, 2001 and 2002 holiday seasons, about 5,800 people spent some portion of their holiday in hospital emergency departments as a result of fall-related injuries sustained while decorating.

To help keep “Ho! Ho! Ho!” from turning into “Oh, no!”, Dr. Charles Rosen, Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at University of California at Irvine Medical Center offers these ladder safety tips:

  1. Choose the right ladder for the job — step stools and utility ladders work for smaller indoor jobs and extension ladders for putting up outdoor holiday lights. And be sure to place ladders on level ground, especially when working outside.
  2. Don’t climb ladders with your hands full. Have someone hold the ladder for you and hand you the decorations or tools as needed.
  3. Never stand on the top of a ladder or the step directly below the top of a ladder. And don’t overreach—keep your hips inside the side rails of the ladder.


If traveling (and all the luggage and packages that go with it!) is part of your holiday plans, Dr. Rosen recommends that you distribute the weight you are carrying evenly between each side to keep from being off-balanced or twisted.

  • Make multiple trips instead of loading yourself down with all the boxes, etc. at once.
  • When traveling by air, use curbside check-in or use a luggage cart to transport your checked baggage to the check-in area. Or consider shipping your gifts ahead to cut down on what you have to carry.


And, depending on where you live (or vacation), the cold white stuff can be part of your holiday as well. If you are shoveling it, remember to use either a small shovel or lighter loads on a larger one. And pace yourself, making sure you are properly positioned before lifting and dumping.

If you’re skiing on it, start right by stretching for 20 minutes before leaving for the slopes, and sitting down when putting on your boots and buckling them. And remember that skiing on hard pack snow or “crud” or skiing over moguls can also jar your back.


If in spite of your best attempts, you do feel an ache or a twinge, Dr. Rosen explains that it’s probably not due to muscle strain but a tear of the outer covering of the disc that has a lot of nerve fibers in it and there is referral of pain to the paraspinal muscles.

“The tear of the annulus or covering will heal in 2-7 days,” he adds, recommending that patients take an anti-inflammatory instead of acetaminophen which will not counteract the inflammatory chemicals that the annular tear releases. “Decrease your physical activity or what you can tolerate, and stay comfortable.”

As for physical therapy, he points out that it’s really for rehabilitation after healing from an injury and to prevent future injury. It is not for curing, and can often hurt during the acute healing phase.”

By following these tips, you’ll keep the pain from your back and the “merry” in your holiday this season!