Orthopedic Associates offers helpful winter tips

It’s that time of year again to bundle up in heavy coats, gloves, scarves, hats and boots and attempt to tackle the snow piled up on sidewalks and driveways.

With all the holiday busyness, shoveling the walkways may become a rushed project. However, shoveling can be a lot more dangerous than it looks.

During the winter months, the Rockford Orthopedic Associates, a staff of 15 physicians that specializes in surgical and non-surgical care for treatment of injuries to the shoulder, elbow, hand, wrist, hip, knee, foot and ankle, see many patients who have been injured while shoveling.

Dr. Sean MacKenzie, M.D., Fellow of the American Association of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said back strain from overuse tends to be the most frequent injury he has seen due to shoveling.

“Elderly have to be careful if they have osteoporosis,” MacKenzie said. “They could get a compression fracture of their spine.”

Some of the injuries caused include aches, pains, pulled muscles, back injuries, rotator cuff tears, wrist strains, fractures and sprains caused by falling on ice.

Due to the high volume of patients the Rockford Orthopedic Associates sees each year, the physicians have come up with some tips to help residents shovel more efficiently and without getting hurt.

The following tips are directly quoted from the physicians of Rockford Orthopedic Associates:

Stretch—Before any physical activity, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise. It is also essential to take frequent breaks and stretch your back in the opposite direction by leaning backward.

Pace yourself—Snow shoveling is an aerobic activity. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or have any pain, stop right away and call your doctor or seek emergency care by calling 911.

Lift with your legs—Lifting a shovelful of snow should be done with your legs, not your back. Keep your back straight, bend your knees, and lift the shovel by straightening your knees.

Lift smaller loads—Avoid scooping and throwing heavy loads of snow.

Avoid twisting—Twisting and throwing a heavy load will cause early back fatigue and make the back susceptible to severe injuries. Turn your entire body and step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow. Do not just twist at the waist and throw.

Use a good shovel—Invest in a plastic shovel, which is lighter than one made of metal, and buy one that is the right length for you. Shovels with a bend in them are less strenuous on your back than the straight, broomstick style.

Spread hands apart—Place one hand halfway down the handle and one hand on the top of the handle while lifting and throwing snow.

If possible, shovel on a level surface—If you are shoveling your driveway, you will have to bend less at the back if you are shoveling uphill versus downhill.

Lubricate your shovel—Spray the bucket with light cooking oil, such as Pam cooking spray, to help snow slide off easier.

Watch for ice—As you shovel, be aware of ice under the snow that can cause you to slip and fall.

Shovel right away—Shovel as soon as possible after the snow has fallen. Newly fallen snow is lighter than heavily packed or partially melted snow.

Take your time—For deep snow, shovel a layer at a time and avoid lifting too much snow at any one time.

Wear proper attire—Dress in layers. If you get too warm, take off a layer. Choose clothing that is loose and breathable; tight clothing can restrict movement and reduce blood flow to your hands and feet, making them colder. Footwear should have soles that will grip slippery surfaces to prevent falling.

Check with your doctor—If you have a medical condition or are concerned about your health, talk with your doctor before shoveling.

Rockford Orthopedic Associates provides care to patients in Boone, DeKalb, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties and in southern Wisconsin. For more info, contact Rockford Orthopedic Associates at 523 Roxbury Rd., Rockford, or by phone at 398-9491.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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