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How to Protect Your Spine in Winter 2019

Spending time outside is, in general, very healthy. Sunshine helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which is essential for the body to be able to absorb calcium and maintain healthy muscles and bones. Fresh air benefits the lungs, immune system, digestive system, mind, and mood. Exercise delivers an almost endless list of benefits. Getting outdoors—whether for a walk around the block, a long run, or a game of catch in the yard—is one of the healthiest choices you can make daily. Unfortunately, as the weather gets colder, spending time outside also brings with it extra opportunities to tweak or injure the spine.

Preparing for a Winter of Spinal Health

As winter 2019 approaches, it’s to essential re-evaluate and strategize how you are going to protect your spine as the weather gets colder. Some spinal issues will be exacerbated by the dipping temperatures alone. For instance, sciatica in winter is almost always worse than it is during summer. Colder temperatures slow your blood flow, which leads to tighter muscles, stiffer joints, and more pain. If your sciatica has mostly been manageable in the warmer months but is starting to worsen as colder days and nights approach, you might consider speaking to your doctor about sciatic nerve treatment.

In most cases, your physician will be able to recommend tips for increasing blood flow to the affected areas, fighting muscle tightness, and avoiding flare-ups of pain. For instance:

  • Stretches that target the lower back, buttocks, thighs, and legs are especially important at this time of year. You need to loosen up those muscles to minimize sciatica pain—something that is harder to do when it’s so cold outside.
  • Finding ways to walk and move around can also increase blood flow to those areas and reduce pain.
  • Staying warm in general can also help—whether that means turning up the thermostat at home, warming up your car before you get into it, bundling up when you go outside, or sleeping with a few extra covers.

Ask your doctor for other tips on how to manage sciatica pain during winter. Hopefully, with a few recommended exercises and other best practices, you will be able to stay relatively pain-free as the temperature continues to drop. If your sciatica does start to become unbearable this winter, though, it might be time to consider surgery. Consult your doctor to learn more about sciatic nerve treatment and whether a surgical option makes sense given your condition.

Other Winter-Related Back Injuries

Other back injuries are just more common because of the conditions that colder weather tends to bring. If you live in an area that gets true-blue winter weather, you need to be cautious of ice, snow, and slippery surfaces. Falls in the winter can be even worse than falls at other times of the year, as muscle tension and stiffness related to the colder weather further increases the risk of injury. Tasks such as shoveling snow or salting the driveway are essential to maintaining slip-free surfaces, but they need to be undertaken with caution.

If you have an existing back or neck condition, talk to your doctor before winter gets here to ask about cold-weather activities. Is it a good idea for you to spend an afternoon gliding around an ice skating rink or zooming down a hill on skis or sledges? As we get older, these activities become increasingly more dangerous. They can still be a lot of fun, but especially if you are prone to back injuries, you should clear these types of wintertime fun with your doctor beforehand.

If you are going to be spending a lot of time outside this winter, do it safely. Make sure you have the proper outdoor gear, both for staying warm and staying on your feet. Investing in a pair of boots with excellent traction isn’t a bad idea. If you want to keep walking or running outside even on chillier days, you might consider purchasing spikes or “traction cleats” that you can wear on your shoes.

Stretching before outdoor winter activities is also a must. People often don’t think of sledding or skating in the same way that they think about running or bicycling. These activities, for most of us, are more about fun than they are about getting a good workout. As a result, stretching before heading out the door might not always occur to you. However, the truth is that each winter activity has a stretch or two that can help you warm up your muscles, improve your flexibility, and get you ready. Squats are terrific for warming up the quadriceps before a day at the ski resort. Lunges are an essential warm-up exercise for skating, as they loosen up the entire lower body and reduce the risk of tweaking your spine. The web is full of useful resources that can give you tips on the best stretches and exercises for different activities. Do a quick Google search to find the best stretches for your winter activity of choice.

If your winter “activity” is moving snow out of your driveway, consider trading the snow shovel for a snow thrower. Shoveling snow is good exercise, but it can also take a significant toll on your back—especially if your spine and the muscles around it aren’t as strong as they used to be. There are snow throwers on the market these days that are small, inexpensive, and battery-operated—good alternatives to the big, heavy gas snowblowers that most people know. If you have a smaller driveway, or prefer a non-gasoline option, try one of these throwers. If you do decide to opt for the shovel, make sure you have an ergonomic snow shovel and that you are only lifting from your legs (instead of from your back) when you need to lift heavy snow.

Avoid Back Pain Due to Colder Weather with Dr Kushwaha’s Help

Dr Kushwaha is passionate about helping his patients avoid back injuries this winter. Whether you are worried about worsening pain due to sciatica in winter or just trying to plan ways to be safe during the colder months, Dr Kushwaha can suggest strategies, best practices, and treatments. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

About Vivek Kushwaha

Vivek P. Kushwaha attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his B.A. from the College of Natural Sciences. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas.

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