Whether you’re waiting to get surgery in the new year or you’re on the mend from a recent surgery, dealing with pain during the holidays can be challenging. There are parties to attend, gifts to wrap, and memories to make. When you have knee, hip, or back pain, all of these activities can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. Managing pain is never easy but during the holidays it’s especially important to be mindful of what you can do to keep your pain levels low and your spirits high. Read on for 10 tips to help you manage your pain during the holidays and beyond.
1. Ask for the support you need
When you’re in pain, the people around you naturally want to give you all the support you need. However, studies have found that not all support is equal. There are several different types of support: emotional, informational, and instrumental (this is tangible help, like picking up groceries, providing transportation, or helping with household chores).
You may find that your spouse or partner is someone that you like emotional support from, while you prefer it when your doctor or surgeon is the one to give you informational support. Certain people in your support system may be great at giving instrumental support, while you’d rather not have emotional support from them, for whatever reason.
During the holidays, asking for the type of support you need from the person you need it from can go a long way in helping you manage your pain. Don’t be afraid to ask specific people for a particular type of help. This allows you to get the support you need, while also helping the people in your support system understand how they can be of the most help to you.
2. Plan travel wisely
Holiday travel is stressful even when you aren’t in pain. When you’re planning holiday travel — whether it’s a 2-hour car ride or an 8-hour flight — it’s a good idea to think strategically about all of the different factors that can affect your pain. Here are some helpful tips for managing your pain while traveling for the holidays.
If you’re driving to your destination, make sure you:
Take regular breaks to stretch and walk around
Switch driving duties with another person, so you have a chance to relax
Drink plenty of water
Pack healthy snacks
Wear layers or bring a blanket (cold weather can make pain worse)
If you’re flying somewhere for the holidays, you can manage your pain by:
Booking a nonstop flight, so you can avoid extensive walking through the airport
Pack all of the essentials you need to manage your pain, including medications, neck or back pillows, and a blanket
Invest in a rolling suitcase to avoid having to carry a heavy bag
Drink lots of water — the circulated air on a plane can make you feel dehydrated
Walk up and down the aisle when possible
Remember, if you’re recovering from knee, hip, or spinal surgery, you need to follow your surgeon’s recommendations for when you can and can’t travel.
3. Stay active
When you have joint pain, staying active can prove difficult. While you certainly don’t want to do too much and overextend yourself, engaging in light activity can help you manage your knee, hip, and back pain in both the short- and long-term. The Centers for Disease Control notes that light to moderate physical activity can help you keep your weight in check, improve your mental health and mood, and even slow the progression of pain.
So, while you may not quite be up for ice skating or doing CrossFit, walks around your neighborhood, taking a gentle yoga class, or swimming labs can help you manage your pain (and your mood) during the holidays.
4. Keep taking your prescribed medications
It’s all too easy to forget to take your pain meds when the bustle of the holiday season descends. But missing doses will likely make your pain worse, meaning you’ll have to put even more effort into managing it later. To make sure that a dose doesn’t slip your mind, set an alarm on your phone as a reminder. Also, be sure to carry your pain medications (and any other prescriptions you take) with you when you travel.
5. Practice relaxation techniques
The winter holidays — from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to Christmas to New Year’s Eve — are notorious for being stressful. When you’re in pain from a knee, hip, or back injury or condition, the stress can exacerbate your pain and impact your emotional and mental health.
The best way to deal with stress, be it from the pain you’re in or just general holiday overwhelm, is to practice relaxation techniques every day. To get you started, here are some ideas:
Carve time out each day to write in a journal
Take a meditation class or meditate on your own with a guided meditation for managing pain
Take several deep inhales and exhales whenever you find yourself getting overwhelmed
Take a walk to clear your mind
6. Set boundaries and prioritize your activities
There are tons of fun things to do during the holiday season. Since you have pain to manage, it’s wise to limit which activities you participate in. Choose the festivities that sound like the most fun to you and won’t leave you in more pain when they’re over. Instead of feeling like you’re missing out, you’ll be able to manage your pain with more ease and create special memories.
Alternatively (or in addition to), try planning activities that require less physical effort but are still enjoyable. Board games, puzzles, and party games are all great activities that are fun for everyone.
7. Take care of your mental health
The main holidays in the U.S. happen to take place during winter, a season that is often associated with feeling blue. According to the National Institute of Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that happens in the fall and winter. It affects many people but women, people who live far north or south of the equator, and those with a family history of SAD are disproportionately affected by it. When you’re in pain, your mental health is even more at risk.
Some steps you can take to alleviate the “holiday blues” include seeing a therapist, spending time with friends and family, following your doctor’s recommendations for pain management specific to your situation, and getting enough Vitamin D.
Only your doctor can diagnose you with SAD or any other form of depression, so if you think you are depressed you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
8. Stay on track with a healthy diet
Holiday feasts are one of the best parts of the season. You should feel free to indulge but try to do so in moderation. When you’re dealing with pain from a knee, hip, or back injury, maintaining a healthy weight is important. Extra weight can put more pressure on your joints and spine, working against any other pain management techniques you’re using. Try to eat balanced meals and enjoy treats only once in a while.
9. Get enough rest
Rest is important to any type of pain management routine. The holidays may be a busy time of year but be sure to take it easy. Getting enough sleep helps your hormones to remain balanced and, while that may seem unrelated to the pain you’re experiencing, it actually plays a pretty large role. When your hormones are imbalanced, your emotional and mental health decline. Along the same lines, a lack of sleep can make you moody and irritable; two things that will make keeping your pain manageable even harder.
10. Continue following your doctor’s advice for pain management
If you’ve had surgery recently, your surgeon probably gave you very specific steps to follow for recovery. Having a smooth, successful recovery from spinal surgery, knee surgery, or hip surgery is essential for managing your pain. If you exert too much effort, you could be setting yourself up for more problems down the road.
If you haven’t had surgery yet, ask your doctor for recommendations on how to manage pain for your individual situation. Having joint and back pain is a big deal. If you have been told you need surgery, schedule a consultation with Carrum Health to find out the next steps to qualifying for the surgery you need.