Winter Weather and Potential Hazard to the Spine

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Dr. Kaixuan Liu with Atlantic Spine Center offers tips on avoiding winter-related back injuries

Dr. Kaixuan Liu

Preventing back injuries in connection with ice, snow, cold and slippery surfaces should be a priority.

Some people welcome the dip in temperature with excitement. But many worry about the hazards of winter weather, winter chores and winter sports. It is undeniable that snow and ice pose potential risks for injury in general and to the spine in particular. That’s why preventing back injuries in connection with ice, snow, cold and slippery surfaces should be a priority according to Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, and founder of Atlantic Spine Center.

Dr. Liu notes that many cases of back pain stem from “mechanical” causes – movements or injuries such as those involved in shoveling snow, falling on ice, skiing, snowboarding or skating. However, “it doesn’t mean that we have to accept back problems as an inevitable result of getting outdoors and staying active when temperatures dip,” he says.

Winter-weather prevention of back problems:
Winter weather back injuries can be caused by a variety of activities. “We can’t avoid every accident from happening, but we can take reasonable measures to avoid many potential back problems, ” says Dr. Liu. Following are Dr. Liu’s activity-specific tips to avoid spine injuries.

Shoveling snow: “Always start with a stretch, moving the shoulder muscles to warm them up. Be sure to push snow straight ahead when shoveling and avoid throwing snow over your shoulder. Try to keep away from sudden twists and turning motions, and always bend at the knees if lifting snow. Dr. Liu advises to let your leg and arm muscles do the hard work and not your back.”

Staying safe on icy surfaces: Dr. Liu advises that it’s best to wear low-heeled shoes with good traction during the icy winter months. He also suggests carrying less, e.g. grocery bags or luggage, when there is ice to allow you to keep your hands free for better balance and to catch yourself if you start to fall. Dr. Liu also advises to be on the lookout for dark spots in the pavement which might be icy and slippery.

Skiing and snowboarding: Skiing and boarding are wonderful family activities, however there are spine risks with these sports. “Dr. Liu encourages snow sport enthusiasts to strengthen their core muscles with planks and sit ups. He also advises skiers to do 10 to 15 squats beforehand hitting the slopes, standing with legs shoulder-width apart and slowly lowering the buttocks while bending the knees over the feet.”

Skating: “Dr. Liu suggests a warm up before skating of 5 to 10 lunges, taking a large step forward with one foot while letting the back knee come down to the floor. Alternate feet and repeat.”

Relief for back pain and injury
Dr. Liu advises that if you injure your back during wintertime sports or chores to see a spine physician where a history of the symptoms will be evaluated to pinpoint the problem. Diagnostic tests might be scheduled such as x-rays or MRI images, electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies. Conservative measures for pain relief will be offered first, including over the counter pain medications, ice, rest and sometimes physical therapy, before surgery is considered.

Dr. Liu concludes, “We don’t want people to be afraid to go outside in the winter months. Exercise is important all year round and for most of us, we have to go outdoors everyday to work and to the stores. However, we can help prevent injury with some careful and reasonable precautions to stay injury free all winter long.”

Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, is a board-certified physician who is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery at Atlantic Spine Center.
Atlantic Spine Center is a nationally recognized leader for endoscopic and orthopaedic spine surgery with offices in NJ and NY http://www.atlanticspinecenter.com. http://www.atlanticspinecenter.nyc

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