Winter is rapidly approaching. The nights are drawing in and the shops are growing full of Christmas displays and decorations. It’s a pretty busy (and exciting!) time of year for everyone. It’s certainly not the time to be slowed down by back pain which could be avoided. Read on for advice on the most common causes of winter back pain and what you should do to prevent being struck down by a back injury in the run up to the festive season!
Deck the Halls
I love putting up the Christmas decorations. The tree, the lights, the tinsel, the whole shebang! But make sure you are careful when climbing up into the loft for the box of decorations, reaching for the top branch of the tree and climbing that step-ladder.
Every winter, over 5,000 Americans suffer a serious back injury as a direct result of an accident whilst decorating their homes.
Our advice to prevent falls and strains includes ensuring you don’t decorate alone, make sure you have someone to hold the step ladder and to pass you the items you need. This ensures you don’t need to overreach, repetitively twist or keep getting on and off the ladder. We’d also advise against starting on the eggnog until after the decorating is finished!
It’s Cold and Dark – Lets Stay In
In the winter, the majority of us tend to become more sedentary. It’s dark in the mornings and evenings and it’s cold, so the temptation of staying at home, in front of the fire with a good film or book is too strong for many people to resist.
But this decrease in activity levels can result in back pain for two reasons:
- Lounging around on sofas and other soft furnishings provides very little support for your back.
- Sitting, laying and generally moving less tends to result in tightening of certain muscle groups – especially the hip flexors and hamstrings. Shortening of either of these groups has been directly linked to back pain.
If you really can’t summon the energy to get outside or to the gym and do some exercise, try some home exercises. Stretching for the hip and lower back muscles are especially important, as are core strengthening exercises to help support the lower back as you lounge!
Hit the Slopes!
Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are common causes of any injury at this time of year and back injury is no exception. They may occur whilst actually skiing, from a fall or tumble, or from lugging your suitcases and skiing gear to and from the airport and resort!
To avoid skiing-related back injuries, ensure you are fit and ready for action before you leave! Most injuries occur in those who are unfit or out of practice. If you’re not usually a regular gym bunny, give yourself a good six weeks to develop a base of cardiovascular fitness. Also work on the strength of your legs, with squats and lunges being the ideal exercises for skiers as they mimic the position and demands placed on the legs whilst skiing. Using wobble boards can also help to improve balance which can help to avoid falls.
As for the luggage scenario, taking bags with wheels and handles which enables them to be dragged or rolled along the floor can ease the stress on your back. Make sure whatever you lift you are evenly balanced, hold a bag in each hand. Don’t overload cases, lift them with your legs, keeping the back straight and hold them close in to the body.
For many parts of the world, winter means snow and snow equals shoveling! Shoveling snow is often something that can’t be avoided as the driveway needs to be cleared to get to work. So here is our guide to safe snow shoveling:
- Use your legs! This advice is repeated over and over again when it comes to avoiding back injuries, but that’s because it’s vital. Our legs are much stronger than our backs. Using the legs to lower and lift your body also means you can keep your back straight and avoid bending the spine which is when it is most at risk.
- Put less snow on each shovel load! This reduces the weight you are lifting each time.
- Don’t repeatedly twist and throw the snow out of the way! Instead, walk and carry the shoveled snow to where you want it.
- Take regular breaks.
- Swap the side you are using to shovel regularly to keep things even and give each side a rest.
Let’s Go Christmas Shopping!
Christmas shopping is great fun. What’s not so great is carrying all those presents, decorations and treats back to the car, and then from the car into the house.
Everyone knows that lifting and carrying heavy items is a big cause of back injury. We all know how we are supposed to lift and carry things, but often either forget, fall into bad habits or just plain old ignore the advice!
For tips on how to carry your bags read: “What carrying heavy bags does to your back”.
So, what have we learned about avoiding winter back pain? Decorate sober and get yourself a Santa’s little helper; keep active even if it is at home in front of the TV; pack lighter and strengthen your legs before skiing; Pay attention to posture, technique and using your legs when it comes to lifting and carrying your shopping bags and shoveling your snow covered driveway!
Heidi Mills BSc (Hons) GSR is a Graduate Sports Rehabilitator from the Norfolk, England. She works as a writer for www.sportsinjuryclinic.net and has over seven years experience in treating sporting and occupational injuries.