Trim the Trees, Deck the Halls and Avoid the Falls!
Written by Neel Anand, MD
It’s that time of year again—when we gather the holiday decorations from the garage and set about creating a Winter Wonderland in our homes. While this season of the year can bring special time with loved ones, it’s also a period in which many un-merry mishaps can occur while decorating. From nuisance neck and back pains and strains to serious spinal fractures that can land you in the ER, no one sets out to sustain a spine injury over the holidays. With a bit of care and precaution, you can deck the halls to your heart’s content, while also reducing your risk for experiencing a less-than-festive spine event.
In the Garage
The location where holiday prep happenings often begin, the garage can be the first brush with danger during the holiday decorating season. Many people store heavy boxes high atop one another or in overhead storage racks in the garage when the holiday hustle and bustle is finished, only to find they are much harder to get down when you’ve got to pull them out again.
From wobbly step ladders to a lack of upper body strength, the garage decoration pull-down is an event just asking for a nasty fall. The first thing to consider in avoiding the fall risk is whether or not this is a job for you. If you’ve someone who is a bit taller, with some arm strength and balance, delegate the decoration pull down to them. Plan ahead for next year by considering who will be around to help you and then repack those decorations accordingly.
Around the Tree
Our wobbly step ladder can make its appearance again here, as you’re hanging the tinsel or placing the star atop the tree. And while it might not be the same as the concrete floor in the garage, there’s still plenty of damage you can do to your spine with a hard fall in the living room—even if it’s carpeted.
Sturdy shoes that can grip a stable step ladder are a must. Don’t trim the tree barefoot, friends. This is also a time to call in reinforcements. Somebody who can be the official tinsel-holder while you focus on stabilizing yourself on the step ladder first is always a good call. Do you have a taller buddy to place the star? Put them in coach! I can promise that a Christmas tree won’t break your fall very well during a decorating disaster.
On the Ground (with the gifts)
While being seated on the floor wrapping gifts won’t put you at the greatest risk for a traumatic spine injury, it can significantly increase your chances for a strained spinal muscle and a sore neck and back. If you waited until Christmas Eve to wrap all of those presents, hours spent hunched over on the floor can provide a sure-fire recipe for horrendous back pain on Christmas morning. Instead, plan ahead a bit and knock out the trimmings and trappings a little at a time leading up to the main event. In addition, set up your wrapping station at the dining room table instead of on the floor. Being seated in a chair will help your posture and prevent you (even if just a little bit) from slouching over too much.
Instead of sitting on the floor to wrap all your gifts, set up a gift wrap station on a table where you have the option to sit and/or stand.
Up on the Housetop
As a traumatic spine injury specialist, I can tell you that falls from the roof while hanging lights aren’t just the plot twists of some funny holiday movies. They are real, and they can be life-changing. From severe spinal cord injuries to paralyzing fractures, the damage caused by falls from great heights is rarely minor.
If you’ve got lights to hang on the roof this season, my greatest piece of advice is to hire a professional if you can. There are more companies out there than ever before that will do the hanging and are equipped with the commercial safety equipment that you might not be.
If you do decide to DIY, make sure the ladder you’re using is sturdy and ideally, placed on solid ground. If the lights you want to hang require you to get up on the roof, consider altering your plan. Decide this year to only hang them from the eaves, where you can stand on a ladder. Add in one of those LED projection lights that shines a snowflake display onto your house and revel in the holiday merriment without the spine injury risk.
No matter how you choose to decorate your home this holiday season, safety should be your top priority. Happy Holidays!