There’s been much debate over when is too soon to begin decorating for the holidays. What we don’t hear much about is how to prevent related injuries—and it’s never too soon to talk about that.
“When we’re in holiday-prep mode, the last thing we’re thinking about is physical safety and proper body mechanics, but these are important,” says Lauren Smith, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at HSS. “Two of the most common issues in November and December are back strains and injuries from falls, which can both be prevented.”
As an early gift to readers, Smith shares these tips for staying safe.
Plastic totes of decorations, lawn ornaments and big gifts can be heavy, and using poor form can wrench your back. You may have heard that you should lift with your legs, and that’s true. But there’s more to know.
First, stand close to the item you’re lifting with your feet in a wide stance. Bend at the knees and hips as you reach your hands under it. As you stand up, tighten your core (stomach) muscles, keep your back in a neutral position (just slightly arched) and use your legs to stand up while holding the item close to your body. Instead of twisting to set it in a new spot, turn your whole body to face the new location, then reverse the process to lower the package down.
Of course, don’t try to be a hero. If you’re worried something might be too heavy for you to lift, it probably is. Enlist a buddy who can help you, or who has the physical strength and mobility to get the job done solo.
Many types of decorations are meant to be hung up high, but it’s not healthy to work with your arms overhead for a long stretch of time. It puts too much strain on the shoulders, which can lead to a pinched nerve, aches and pains or even tendonitis. Take the time to get out a step stool or ladder rather than overreaching and take breaks every 15 minutes or so.
This is not a place to cut corners! For starters, don’t climb on furniture, including chairs. Use a ladder when needed and inspect it for safety before you climb. Pay attention to weight and use restrictions (they’re there for a reason) and stay off the top two rungs.
As for placement, make sure the base of the ladder is on a solid, flat, non-slippery surface. If it’s the kind that leans against a wall, the base should be one foot from the wall for every four feet of ladder height.
Make sure you have someone with you to hold it steady (and phone for help if needed) and save the cocktails for after you’re done decorating.
Decorations can be a tripping hazard, depending on where they’re placed. Avoid putting decorations on stairs or in walkways, tape down extension cords, place nonskid mats under throw rugs and use weatherstripping instead of “door snakes” to keep out the chill.
Also avoid tripping over pets by keeping them safely tucked away in their crate or another room until you’re done with the trimmings. Tripping over pets is a common cause of falls at any time of year. They may not like being sequestered, but it can keep them safe, too.
This is one of the best ways to stay safe during decorating. Enlist the help of friends and family—or even professionals, in the case of tasks that feel unsafe to you (like hanging outdoor lights, for example). Having at least one buddy nearby can allow you to share the workload, get a second opinion on décor placement and stay safe so you can have a happy, healthy holiday season.