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2023 Santa Faculty Staff Christmas Party 12 08 2023 12.jpg

A Seasonal Strain: Santa Claus Presents with Low Back Pain

Santa Claus at the VCOM Louisiana Holiday Party
By Amy Ostroth -

Like everyone should, Santa schedules regular visits with his family physician. After all, he has a big job and he’s the only person who can do it, so it’s important that he looks after himself. He not only schedules regular annual checkups, but also sees his physician as soon as he realizes that he’s having a health issue.

Recently, Santa noticed he was having some stiffness, soreness and aching in his lower back, so he made an appointment with Mark Sanders, DO. Santa has always found that Dr. Sanders’s recommendations were based on thoughtful conversation and an understanding of him as a person.

During Santa’s visit to his office, Dr. Sanders noted that Santa's back pain was likely the result of his constant lifting and bending as he prepared for the big night and the physically demanding nature of the upcoming holiday season would likely exacerbate existing issues. Constant bending and lifting while delivering presents, especially considering the weight of his iconic sack, might further strain his back. Additionally, squeezing through chimneys and maneuvering in tight spaces could lead to discomfort or injury.

In his notes, Dr. Sanders observed: “Santa reported aching and stiffness localized to his lumbar region, specifically to the areas of L4-L5. He described frequent bending and lifting during present deliveries, particularly through chimneys, contributing to his symptoms. The patient denied any recent trauma but acknowledged a long-standing pattern of overindulgence in cookies and milk during his annual duties. He also notes long periods of piloting his sleigh throughout the night.”

Dr. Sanders’ clinical examination revealed a jolly, well nourished elderly man in no acute distress. His vital signs were stable, and his heart and lungs sounded normal. However, his pain was a 5/10. Dr. Sanders noted that there was tenderness over Santa's lumbar spine with limited range of motion for L4-L5 and discomfort with forward flexion.

The diagnosis: musculoskeletal strain, likely exacerbated by repetitive bending, lifting and navigating tight spaces. “He also has Acute Somatic Dysfunction of the lumbar spine,” said Dr. Sanders, after receiving permission from Santa to discuss his condition.

“I recommend rest and ice, especially during the off-season, to alleviate acute symptoms,” Dr. Sanders advised. “Santa should also modify his gift-delivery techniques, considering ergonomics and back-friendly maneuvers.” Furthermore, physical therapy—including a tailored exercise regimen focusing on core strengthening and flexibility—will help address underlying musculoskeletal imbalances, and moderation of cookie and milk consumption will promote a healthier weight, thereby alleviating strain on Santa’s lumbar spine. Dr. Sanders also recommended training Santa's elves to assist with heavier packages and implementing technology for more efficient present delivery, reducing the physical burden on Santa.

“Finally, I recommend integrating Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT) sessions into Santa’s care plan, employing gentle hands-on techniques to address musculoskeletal imbalances,” Dr. Sanders said. “Myofascial release, soft tissue stretching and spinal adjustments will enhance mobility and alleviate tension in the lumbar region.”

Santa looks forward to the reduction of his pain and will be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with Dr. Sanders after the busy holiday season to adjust techniques as necessary and focus on preventing recurrent episodes during the busy holiday seasons.

Dr. Sanders—who also serves VCOM-Louisiana’s dean—noted that Santa’s case underscores the importance of recognizing occupational factors in evaluating low back pain in patients, especially for legendary figures like Santa Claus. Adding OMT to the treatment plan provides a holistic approach to Santa’s care, promoting optimal musculoskeletal function and contributing to overall well-being. Regular OMT sessions can be scheduled throughout the year, with special attention given to the pre- and post-holiday periods to ensure Santa is in peak physical condition for his annual gift-delivery mission and ensuring a pain-free and joyful gift-giving experience for years to come.

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