Thanksgiving and Back Pain

Most of us spend Thanksgiving in three places: standing in the kitchen, sitting at the table, and parking ourselves on the couch. We're on our feet slaving over a hot stove, then carrying food and lifting heavy pots and pans—the turkey, the stuffing, vats of mashed potatoes. At dinner time we sit for hours and eat. It's a great holiday for connecting with family and friends and making memories. But it's also a prime time for triggering body aches and pains. With a little extra awareness you can avoid hurting yourself. 

happy thanksgiving messageWishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Photo Credit:

For most people, Thanksgiving isn't just a one day event. It's a multi-day, multi-feast celebration. Thanksgiving is really only the pre-game that warms you up for a month of celebrations, shopping, cooking special meals and sugar overloads from all the holiday baking.

Stop a minute and consider the outcome of straining a back muscle while lifting the turkey out of the oven. That''s when the merry-making stops and all the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and celebrating comes to a screeching--and painful--end.  If you can get Thanksgiving right—and get through it with a healthy back—you be well on your way to enjoying the whole month of December. Follow our helpful suggestions so you don't miss out on any holiday fun.

The Kitchen

Watch your posture and body mechanics. Are you hunched over the cutting board? Are you putting all your weight on one leg?

  • You should particularly watch yourself when pulling the turkey out of the oven. Some of those turkeys are heavy, so you should apply good heavy lifting principles.

Take breaks. With so many people in the kitchen, you can schedule rotating breaks. Have a seat at the kitchen table (if there's room). Go for a walk (if the weather's nice; this is also a good way to be proactive against all the extra calories you eat on Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays). Play with the kids (if there are kiddos).

  • Doing something different—using your body in a different way, even just for 15 minutes every hour or so—can help you avoid tired, sore muscles at the end of the day.

Wear good shoes. Contrary to what Donna Reed portrayed, heels are not appropriate footwear for the kitchen, especially when you're going to be cooking for so long. This article explains how high heels affect your spine.

  • It's better to wear sensible shoes: any shoes with good arch support and a sole that grips count as sensible shoes.

Get help. We don't mean hire help or outsource the whole meal. But do not attempt to do the entire meal yourself. You'll end up spending entirely too much time in the kitchen on your feet. And most of us do not spend that much time standing up on a normal day, so the unexpected strain on your feet, knees, and spine may cause back pain.

The Table

Eat slowly. This tip is more to guarantee that you enjoy the meal. Don't overeat: on Thanksgiving, most of us take in many times our daily caloric allowance. Thanksgiving is the traditional start to the holiday overeating period—and all those extra calories lead to extra weight.

  • If you eat slowly, though, you'll be more aware when you're full. Trying to eat a normal-size portion of everything is too much; be content with small tastes of everything.

Watch your posture. Basically, you should always watch your posture, whether you're standing or sitting. We tend to spend a long time around the Thanksgiving table…sharing what we're thankful for, laughing, passing the dinner rolls, catching up.

The meal is the social focus of the day (although many women know that the real talk happens in the kitchen, another reason to get as much help in the kitchen as possible), so if you spend all that time with poor sitting posture, you run the risk of back pain.

Get up from the table. As a family—and weather permitting—take a brisk walk after the meal. In fact, during the holiday season, it's more important than ever to be vigilant about exercise—it's so easy to get behind. Throughout December and into the New Year, stick to your workout schedule (or get a head start on a New Year's resolution and begin an exercise plan).

The Couch

Go to bed. If you're going to nap—and face it, you probably are—go lay down in a real bed. Too many of us end up in the oddest positions when we doze on the couch, and very few people really think about the angle of their neck before drifting off in the recliner.

  • Then you know how it is: you wake up an hour or three later, and the first thing you do is reach up to massage your sore neck. (The second thing you do is go get another piece of pumpkin pie.)

Watch your posture. Slumping into the couch places an unnatural strain on your spine. Make sure that your low back is supported: use a pillow to give lumbar support if necessary.

One of the best ways to make sure you don't strain your back muscles while watching TV is rather simple: don't spend huge amounts of time in front of it. Granted, you do need to watch football or a holiday movie, but get up every hour and move around a bit. Change positions frequently when you're sitting down.

And Happy Thanksgiving from SpineUniverse!

We want to help you get through this holiday—and on to the next—with as little back and neck pain as possible.

Updated on: 11/14/18
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Back Sprains and Strains Center
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