Managing chronic pain during holiday festivities

Tips to keep in mind to help manage chronic pain and enjoy time with friends and family.

A closeup image of two people's hands kneading dough.
Photo: Unsplash/Hannah Busing.

There is so much hustle and bustle during the holiday season as we prepare new dishes, entertain family and friends and wrap gifts. When we are under stress to make everything perfect for our families and friends, and it is cold and damp outside, it seems the aches and pains caused by chronic conditions such as arthritis occur more often. 

Although exercise and movement is essential in relieving pain, when we can’t bend down to play with a child, stand for any length of time or use a knife to prep food for a recipe, the joy seems to leave the holiday festivities. If you experience chronic pain, try scaling back your activity level and simplifying what you do. This allows you to enjoy the festivities and the company of family and friends so much more. Below are some tips to better manage pain during the holiday festivities.

Shopping and Meal Preparation 

  • Shop online for gifts and groceries if and when possible; this allows you to shop from the comfort of your own home.
  • When shopping in stores, use a supportive device, such as a walker, walking sticks or a cane, if you do not have good balance or are in pain. Also, wear good supportive, comfortable shoes. High-heeled shoes or flats give very little or no support, and they often cause pain in your knees, hips and back.
  • When grocery shopping, try using more bags and carrying fewer items in each. Doing so lightens the load, so it is not as hard on your body.
  • As you begin to plan meals, look for recipes with fewer ingredients. You can also purchase pre-chopped ingredients such as celery, onions and other vegetables to limit the amount of chopping.
  • Ask others who will be joining you to prepare more time-intensive and complicated dishes, so you don’t need to make them yourself. You’ll save yourself time and discomfort, and everyone still gets to enjoy them.

Decorating and Self-Care

  • When decorating, ask others to help to avoid climbing up and down a step stool or lifting heavy loads. Having fewer decorations can help people notice the beauty of what you have put out. Many times, “simply decorated” is more beautiful and safer than the clutter.
  • Keep tripping hazards in mind. Make sure area rugs are secured or put away. It is easy for area rugs to curl on the edges, resulting in someone falling. Don’t have extension cords where you may trip over them. Holiday lights are lovely, but not if they cause danger in your home.

Enjoy the holiday season, but be mindful of your own needs. When you are in less pain or less risk of injury, you can enjoy time with friends and family even more. Michigan State University Extension offers chronic pain self-management workshops throughout Michigan. For more information on a local workshop, search the MSU Extension events page.

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