With winter closing its grip on Canada, this is the perfect time for us to discuss how to protect your back from injury during the winter months.
It is a well-known fact that you are more likely to suffer from back pain during the winter months, as opposed to the warmer months of spring and summer.
There are many reasons for this, which include falls on slippery surfaces, snow shoveling injuries, as well as cold and tight muscles.
The first issue I want to discuss is the danger of slipping and falling on icey surfaces, such as parking lots, the steps going into the cab of your truck or the deck of your flatbed.
In my clinic, the majority of back injuries I see in the wintertime are due to falls.
Often, when you fall your muscles and joints get pulled and pushed in several different directions at once, which leads to sprains and strains and sometimes in extreme cases dislocations and fractures.
One of the main contributing factors leading to falls is the use of poor footwear.
Footwear such as running shoes, cowboy boots and slippers provide insufficient traction on slippery surfaces.
It is recommended to wear a winter boot with a solid tread pattern as it will provide the necessary traction.
Think about it, would you drive down the road in your truck with bald tires in the wintertime? Of course not! That would be very dangerous.
The same applies to your body. In addition to wearing the proper footwear, you can also prevent falls by inspecting and clearing surfaces, such as the deck of your flatbed and the steps of your truck, of snow and ice on a regular basis.
Another main cause of back pain is snow shoveling. Whether you are clearing the area around your truck or your driveway at home, it is very important to follow a few simple guidelines to prevent back injuries from occurring.
One of the major reasons that snow shoveling leads to back injuries is the fact that you are using cold and tight muscles to perform a very physical task.
When muscles are subjected to cold temperatures they tend to be less flexible and pliable, which makes them easier to tear or strain.
To illustrate this point, take two rubber bands. Put one in the freezer and leave one at room temperature.
After one hour remove the rubber band from the freezer and try to pull and stretch it.
Compare its flexibility to that of the rubber band left on the counter.
As you can see, it is far less flexible and much easier to break.
With this in mind, it is important to warm up your muscles before shoveling snow in the wintertime.
The best way to do this is to go for a five to 10 minute walk and then perform a few simple stretches.
Although this does not seem like a lot, it will greatly reduce your chances of hurting your back.
In addition to a warm up, it is also important to take your time and use proper form while shoveling. Make sure to bend your knees and lift with your legs when moving the snow onto the snow bank.
Do not bend at the waist and lift with your back muscles.
I know that shoveling snow is not the most enjoyable task, but it is vital to take your time and not to rush as this can lead to injury. Instead of taking large shovelfuls of snow, try taking smaller ones. This will reduce the strain on your low back.
Have you ever heard of the saying: ‘There is power in numbers’? Well, this applies to snow shoveling as well! Try to minimize the strain on your back by getting others to help you out.
Now, in the unfortunate event that you do hurt your back what should you do? I always get the question, “Doc, should I use ice or heat?”
I know that I have discussed this topic in previous articles, but a little review never hurts.
The general rule of thumb is after any injury, for the first 72 hours you should use ice due to the fact that this is the inflammatory phase.
Our goal during this time period is to reduce the swelling by placing ice on the injury.
For example, if during snow shoveling you felt a sharp pain in your lower back you would stop shoveling and put an ice pack on your lower back using the 10-10-10 protocol (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on) and consult with your chiropractor, physician or therapist immediately.
On the other hand, if you were to wake up the next morning after shoveling and your low back feels stiff and achy, it is okay to use heat to loosen up these muscles.
If the stiffness persists for more than a few days, it would be a good idea to consult with your healthcare professional.
As we all know, it doesn’t take much to throw out your back. If you follow these simple tips it will greatly reduce your chances of back injury.
I want to take a moment now to wish you all a happy and safe holiday and all the best in the New Year! Until then, drive safely!
– Dr. Christopher Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 888-252-7327, or email TCC@transcanadachiropractic.com