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How to Avoid Back Pain During Winter
By Daniel Casciato

Did you hurt your back this winter? You’re not alone. It’s common for people to get hurt during this time of year. One of the most frequent causes of back injuries during the winter comes from shoveling snow.

"People are not used to exerting themselves and try to do it for a long period of time because they want to get out there, shovel the snow and get back inside,” says Jocelyn Idema, D.O., of Washington, PA-based Advanced Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.

Excessive shoveling can also be bad for your heart as well, she adds.

“People can have heart attacks if they overexert themselves,” Dr. Idema says. “Likewise, you can put undue stress on your back if you overexert yourself. You’re bent over, lifting something heavy, and you’re twisting your body to throw the snow off to the side.”

It’s the perfect way to develop a muscle strain or get a herniated disc, if you’re not careful.

So what can you do?

Dr. Idema recommends three things you should do if you have to shovel snow:

  1. Stretch to loosen up your muscles
  2. Take some ibuprofen before you start
  3. Go slow. Break up the work in small sections and rest after finishing each section

“For example, shovel the side of your house first, and then take a little break,” says Dr. Idema. “Then you may want to do the front of the house and then rest. And maybe divide the driveway into two parts. Do one part first and rest, and then finish up the last section.”

Another common reason people end up hurting their back is putting up Christmas decorations outside and even putting up a Christmas tree.

You can avoid back injuries by not bending over to pick up a box full of decorations. Bend at your knees, or squat, to pick up any boxes. Also, use a ladder or step stool to reach high places so you do not overextend your neck or back.

And never decorate alone.

“Some people live alone and want to decorate,” says Dr. Idema. “In this case, make it a family a project. Tell your children you’re going to help Grandpa decorate his house for Christmas.

The final frequent cause of back injuries that Dr. Idema tends to see is due to ice. People will often slips and fall on their tailbone, or break their wrist or ankle.

“There’s not a good way to avoid ice,” says Dr. Idema. “But if it’s snowy or icy out, try to stay inside. Wait for the ice to thaw before you go outside to get your mail or packages.”

If you are injured this winter season, always use ice on your injury first—not heat. Ice will reduce any swelling. You can also but an over-the-counter brace that can help you temporarily until you can see your physician.

“Take an anti-inflammatory medication if you are able to as well,” Dr. Idema adds. “Take it three times a day. After three to four days, if you’re not making significant progress, you need to call your primary care physician or a medical clinic. They will take an x-ray and if necessary, they will refer you to someone like us.”

For more information, visit www.advancedorthopaedics.net.

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