Every season brings its own set of health woes. Winter is a major culprit, wreaking havoc with cold weather, freezing temperatures, and ice and snow that can lead to all sorts of health problems from head to toe and everything in between.
This winter, if you’re spending a lot of time indoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to grab your snowshoes, cross country skis or ice skates or just take a walk. And if you’re feeling cooped up inside, you may actually look forward to shoveling snow or chopping through a sheet of ice. As a pain specialist, many of the patients I see during the winter are seeking relief of back pain related to outdoor activity. Slips, falls and lifting heavy wet snow can lead to back sprain (a stretch and/or tear of a ligament) and strain (an injury to either a muscle or a tendon). The resulting acute pain happens suddenly and usually lasts a few days to a few weeks.
There are safety precautions you can take, though, to guard your health and prevent injury.
- Check in with your physician before you undertake rigorous outdoor cold weather activity. He or she can help you gauge the level of activity that is right for you. A virtual visit is a good option. This is very important if you have a chronic back or spine condition and especially if you have a heart or vascular condition.
- Before you go out, take 10 minutes or so to warm up your muscles with light exercise.
- When you do go outside, for recreation or to do chores, take it easy and pace yourself. Listen to your body. If you are experiencing discomfort, take a break. Even when it’s cold, remember to replenish fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Recruit a friend or family member to join you. Keep a cell phone and an emergency kit handy when you are participating in outdoor recreation or work.
- Wear appropriate outdoor clothing such as a tightly woven, preferably wind-resistant coat or jacket; inner layers of light, warm clothing; mittens or gloves; hats; scarves; and waterproof boots.
- Clear the driveway and sidewalk early and often whether you use a shovel or a snow-blower. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid shoveling packed, heavy snow. Shoveling snow is comparable to weight lifting so don’t throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that places stress on your back.
- Wear proper footwear and look in front of you. Ice can cause sudden and serious falls. If you find yourself falling, try to fall on your side or buttocks. Roll over naturally, turning your head in the direction of the roll.
- In an emergency situation, seek immediate help. Know the location of your nearest urgent care facility for an in-person or a telehealth visit.
Don’t suffer through pain that persists. Contact your primary care physician or a pain specialist directly, to find out what is best for your situation.