Holiday celebrations aren’t complete without twinkly lights and towering Christmas trees – but holiday orthopaedic injuries send thousands of Aussies flocking to the ER every year – with injuries ranging from falling off ladders while hanging baubles, to “iPain shoulder”, through to family footy games wind up in orthopaedic disaster.

Our waistlines don’t fare much better either, with the average Australian gaining 0.8 to 1.5kg over Christmas – which isn’t usually lost in the New Year.

Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Jonathan Herald offers his top tips to navigate all the holiday pitfalls.

  • Be ladder wary – more than 5,000 Australians are hospitalised every year after falls from ladders.
  • “My best tip is just don’t climb a ladder to hang lights (or for anything else) if you’re over 50. Age is a much bigger predictor of significant injury than height of the fall and this has been backed up in a study of 27,000 trauma patients where the average fall was 9.8ft,” says Dr Herald.
  • “Older people may fall from lower heights, but they sustain different and usually more severe injuries.”
  • “Also, always make sure a ladder is on a level surface, have someone hold the ladder and never step on the top rung of the “paint bucket” shelf.
  • Avoid IPain –Smartphones now outnumber the world’s population and these holidays we will be spending more hours per day on our iphones than by the beach or pool, according to a study of 9200 travellers.
  • Increasingly, phones are linked to neck and shoulder symptoms (called iPain) and can exacerbate degenerative arthritis. Gazing down for extended periods increases neck pain, touchscreens also mean people are typing with no resisting force. Some screens are also very small, and we need to tense everything up to ensure we hit the right key, says Dr Herald.
  • That’s why it’s good to take regular breaks every 15 minutes, if it hurts put it down and when you are using it, bring your device closer to your face don’t hunch (leaning forward is like holding a 3kg weight away from the body.”
  • Holiday Footy. “It’s important to teach kids to tuck and roll when taking a fall,” says Dr Herald – don’t fall on an outstretched hand which can cause wrist breaks
  • “If you must use your hand slap the ground, rather than fall on fingers.” Also teach kids to catch a ball with fingers softly spooned, not tense and outstretched.”
  • Know sprain v break. “Sprains usually have less severe swelling and you’ll be able to walk on the ankle just after or a few hours after the injury,” says Dr Herald.
  • With a break though, you cannot bear weight on a broken ankle, and your child will not respond to distraction (i.e. walk to get a treat or toy)
  • If the bone is piercing the skin, the pain is severe or a foot is facing the wrong direction do not move the patient unless in immediate danger. Call an ambulance and they will administer pain relief.
  • For any breaks stay off the foot, ice 20 minutes on/off a few times a day and get to a hospital for imaging as soon as possible.
  • “When in doubt check it out,” adds Dr Herald, because untreated arm, knee, collarbone or leg fractures takes longer to heal or in rare cases may not heal.”

BREAKOUT: Xmas weight gain: Australia’s silent nightmare.   

The average Aussie adds an 0.8-1.5kg over the Christmas. “Whilst it doesn’t sound a lot, it’s not lost over the rest of the year and adds up over a lifetime of Christmas periods. Christmas gorging is a risk factor for long term adult obesity and increasingly, significant extra weight is also a big contributor to knee joint pain,” says Dr Herald.

So how do you dodge holiday weight gain without missing the merriment?

“It’s hard work that requires a conscious effort not to let Xmas ‘run from December til January’. Also stick to small plates; try to maintain your regular workout even on holidays and never go to a party hungry!”