Burr Ridge, Ill. – February 1, 2008 - Walking in a winter wonderland may be beautiful to the eye, but it can be treacherous on your back. Venturing outside in the snow means shoveling the fallen snow and the possibility of slipping on ice. In order to make your winter as safe as possible, the North American Spine Society (NASS) has put together some information on winter safety.
If your driveway or sidewalk is covered with snow, should you… grab a shovel and start shoveling, charge up the snow blower or just hire someone to do it for you? Most of us have to rely on shoveling, so NASS is here to provide you with the knowledge to shovel without inflicting pain and stress on your back. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist Heidi Prather, DO, commented that “shoveling snow is a common reason to see someone for low back pain. Often it is not how much snow someone has lifted but the amount of times that they lifted and twisted while shoveling. Pacing oneself is key in preventing injuries.”
The first step to shoveling properly is remembering to bend through your knees and hips so that the weight of your body is more evenly distributed below the waist. Second, avoid twisting through the spine. Try to focus on rotating through the hips instead. Repetitive twisting at the level of the spine is a common way to create new pain or flair up pre-existing low back pain.
Pavement that’s been shoveled can turn into ice. Sometimes it’s hard to see ice, and invisible ice equals painful falls. To decrease the risk of slipping, pour rock salt onto any paved surfaces. Forgoing winter boots in favor of regular shoes may be tempting, but shoes with rubber soles or built-in grips are important when navigating slick sidewalks and parking lots. Some may think that beauty is pain, but the pain of an injured back can last a lot longer than the latest shoe style. Today there are many options for cold weather shoes. If you do fall, here are some steps to minimize the pain:
- “Treatment should initially involve relative rest, i.e. no more shoveling, and an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen can be helpful. Other over the counter pain medicine like acetaminophen can also help.” noted Dr. Prather. Keep in mind that “relative rest” does not mean lying down and wait for the pain to go away. Walking is a great way to stay active, without putting too much extra strain on an aching back. Remaining as active as you can tolerate can keep blood and nutrients flowing to the affected area, inhibiting inflammation and reducing muscle tension.
- Using an ice pack within the first 48 hours after a fall can reduce inflammation or swelling by decreasing blood flow from constricted blood vessels. Apply an ice pack for up to 20 minutes every two hours. Don’t forget to protect your skin from frostbite by using a thin sheet or towel!
- Using heat after the initial 48 hours of a fall can soothe sore back muscles. Dry heat from a heating pad or the moist heat of a hot bath or steamed towels, are good options. Avoid using heat for more than 15 -20 minutes at a time with at least a 15-20 minute break between applications. Excessive heat reverses the intended positive affects.
While ice and heat can reduce discomfort, neither method speeds long-term recovery. Dr. Prather noted that “if symptoms persist or pain limits your function, it is important to see a spine care specialist.”
The North American Spine Society hopes that these tips can make your winter a wonderland!
# # #
The North American Spine Society (NASS) grew out of the need for a scientific spine society that would include all members of the spine community regardless of specialty or locale. NASS is a multidisciplinary organization that advances quality spine care through education, research and advocacy. NASS members are MDs, DOs and PhDs in 22 spine-related specialties including orthopedics, neurosurgery, physiatry, pain management and other disciplines. Nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, chiropractors, physical therapists, practice administrators and other allied health care professionals involved in spine care are also represented in NASS as affiliate members. For more information on spine care or to find a spine specialist in your area, please contact 866.960.NASS (6277) or visit www.spine.org.
For further information, contact:
Toll-free: (866) 960-NASS (6277)
Direct: (630) 230-3650
Fax: (630) 230-3750