The holidays aren't for the faint of heart. While this may be the most magical time of year for children and adults alike, it also presents significant risks of stress, exhaustion and even injury, experts say.
The culprit is all the shopping, decorating, cooking, cleaning and travelling that happens over the holidays, according to data from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, a medical rehabilitation facility.
Carrying overly heavy or large shopping bags causes a significant increase in injuries to the shoulder, neck and upper and lower back, said Dr. Jeffrey M. Cole, director of Kessler's electrodiagnostic medicine and musculoskeletal rehabilitation. Strains and sprains are the most common injuries, and can be extremely painful.
While medication, rest and occupational therapy can treat most injuries, prevention to avoid injury in the first place is the best medicine, Kessler said. Recommendations include distributing the weight between both arms when carrying packages and asking for assistance in lifting or moving large items.
Decorating is also one of the leading causes of holiday-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls account for 12 percent of seasonal emergency room visits, up from 9 percent the rest of the year. Of those falls, 43 percent happen from ladders. The majority of individuals suffering falls were ages 20-49, with men 40 percent more likely to get hurt from falling than women.
As with shopping injuries, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, Kessler said, particularly when using a ladder or step stool. Make sure it is sturdy, balanced and in good condition. Have someone hold it in place.
That drive or flight over the river and through the woods brings its own hazards, cautions Kessler occupational therapist Kim Hreha. More than 55,000 persons in the U.S. sustain serious injuries to the back, shoulders and neck each year from carrying luggage.
Kessler advises travelers to opt for suitcases and duffle bags with wheels, use proper lifting techniques and consider shipping gifts and other items, particularly heavy ones, rather than trying to pack them.
Holiday hazards include more than just physical injury, said Kessler psychologist Gerard Donahue. Many people suffer headaches, nervousness, muscle tension and a lack of energy caused by the stress of the holidays. Among the more common symptoms of this stress are mood swings, irritability, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and depression.
Exercise can frequently provide a good antidote to such stress, Kessler suggests. Also, people need to make time for themselves and their own needs, and enlist the help of friends and family. And, above all, Kessler said, be realistic and set reasonable goals.
"This is a wonderful time of year, but it can actually be quite dangerous," said Sam Bayoumy, Kessler's director of rehabilitation. "In trying to get it all done, we often rush around and ignore our surroundings, our bodies and the basic rules of safety."