For the holiday season I decided to update my article on avoiding turkey-back and add a video on how to lift. With everything else you have to do this holiday season the last thing you have time for is low back pain.  When it comes to turkeys, most of us consider whether to brine or BBQ or what to do with all the leftovers, unaware that this bird poses yet another problem – how to get it in and out of the oven without hurting our back.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er_uC1tyoUQ

The problem with turkeys is that they are heavy. Take 15, 20 or even 25+ lb., add in a heavy roaster pan and you have a recipe for low back pain.  As you lean forward to put it in the oven you are probably going to find out if you have a predisposition to back injury.  If you want to avoid this peril of the season, I have a pneumonic trick, TEC, which may help you to remember preventative advice.

T – Technique

When it comes to a turkey the traditional back care advice of bending your knees and keeping your back straight isn’t enough.  This standard technique breaks down because the door gets in the way and the hot oven won’t let you get close enough.  Whenever a situation is less than ideal it is important to look at your options more carefully to make better technical decisions.  

Technique tips:

  1. Place the turkey on a counter close to the oven. This will limit how far you need to carry it. 
  2. Think about the best place to stand. When I put the bird in the oven I usually stand at the upper corner of the door.  This lets me squat with one leg on each side of the corner and reduces how much I need to bend forward.  It is still important to try to keep your back as straight as possible and bend your knees however some forward leaning is unavoidable. 
  3. Lighten the load. Even better advice is to find someone to help lift the other side of the pan.  Remember it is the holidays and why else would you invite all those relatives if not to share the load?

E – Equipment: 

There isn’t much in the way of special equipment to make this situation better at the last minute. 

Equipment tips:

  1. Consider the weight of the equipment and the total weight of the lift. Ideally you want to make the lift as light as possible however with a turkey this is challenging.  You might choose a lighter pan but unless you forgo a cast iron roaster, the weight reduction is minor.  Cooking the dressing in a separate container may make a difference in food safety but has minimal effect on your back.
  2. Use the design features of your stove to full advantage. This means making sure the oven door is fully open and the rack is pulled out as far as safely possible.  This preparation limits how much you need to lean forward.   If you are looking at a new stove, consider how easily the racks pull out and how stable they are.  Although I love how my stove in the video cooks, the racks are sticky to push in or out.  My city stove’s racks are a dream, something I am going to look for when I replace the country stove. 
  3. Waist high surfaces are ideal. If you are planning a kitchen renovation in the New Year, consider a wall oven as the higher location will be easier on your back

C – Core: 

I don’t mean to add to the pressure of the season however you have about a month to get in training for the big day.  With limited time, you need a plan.  Its most important to focus on strengthening your abdominal, buttock and thigh muscles to ensure that you have the strength to lift the weight. You can book an appointment to see our kinesiologist, John Gray, if you need advice on strengthening and lifting techniques to prepare you for turkey season.   

If your plan is to wait to the New Year to get in shape, your best bet is to be mindful of using the best muscles during the lifts.  Even if your core is not ideal, engaging whatever muscle you have available will help. 

Core engagement tips:

  1. Think like a weight lifter and begin with a warm-up. Do a few shallow squats to get the thigh and buttock muscles working. 
  2. Open the oven door and pull out the rack.
  3. Tighten your tummy muscles as you exhale and lift the turkey off the counter.
  4. Take a deep breath and exhale again as you squat to set the pan on the rack.
  5. Ensure you keep your balance. Your torso should be well-centred over your feet as you set the turkey down or its weight will tend to pull you forward. 
  6. Repeat in reverse to bring the turkey out.

If you have low back pain

If you have a back problem or need more advice email us at physio@orthophysio.com or call 416-925-4687 to book in to see any of our physiotherapists to make sure you get the right advice for you to stay healthy through this holiday season and for the long-term.

Here’s to a happy and injury free holiday season!