Preventing winter sports injuries

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Outdoor activities can be an excellent way to get some fresh air and exercise during the long, chilly winter months, but the cold temperatures and icy surfaces can also lead to more injuries. Following is a list of tips to help you have fun and minimize your risk of injury while enjoying winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, skating, sledding, and even shoveling.

Cold muscles are more injury-prone, so a short warm-up prior to activity is important. Start with some light exercises, followed by gentle stretching. Make sure to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. If skiing, take at least one warm-up run before heading to more difficult slopes.

Become familiar with your surroundings. Know the whereabouts of fences, trees, rocks, open water, and ice patches, so you can avoid them. Stay on marked trails and avoid any potentially dangerous areas such as steep hills. Slippery surfaces are particularly troublesome as they can cause sudden jarring movements.

Avoid participating in winter sports if you are experiencing a lot of pain or are overtired.

Snow removal is one of the most common causes of back injury during the winter months. Improper body mechanics can cause a painful muscle sprain or strain, or even more serious injuries including herniated discs. Follow these chiropractor tips to help make the snow removal process as painless as possible:

* Invest in an ergonomic shovel. A shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length can take much of the stress off your back. A lightweight plastic blade will also help reduce the amount of weight you are required to lift.

* Use ergonomic lifting techniques. Bend at the hips and lift with your leg muscles, not your back. Do not try to lift loads that are too heavy for you, and walk to the deposit location rather than trying to toss the snow.

* Whenever possible, use a snowblower instead of a shovel. When used correctly, a snowblower can take much of the stress of snow removal off your back. Use the power of your legs to propel the machine forward, keeping your back upright and knees slightly bent.

* Pace yourself. Avoid overheating and dehydration by taking plenty of water breaks. Also use this as an opportunity to stretch the major muscle groups to keep them warm and flexible.

When you're outside, wear several layers of light, loose clothing. Layers can be removed or added as necessary according to a constantly changing body temperature.

Also, wear shoes or boots with good tread to help prevent slipping. If you can, spread sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on high traffic areas to improve traction.

Dr. Wayne Fichter is the lead doctor at Disk and Spine Northwest, a comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation center specializing in the treatment of serious, chronic back pain, acute injuries and postural/scoliosis problems. Contact him at diskandspinenorthwest.com or (208) 215-3261.

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