With winter here, that brings on a lot of new changes to our environment.
We now have snow and ice to work, which can be fun in the case of snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing or ice skating – but can also lead to many new aches and pains.
Whether it is low back pain, headaches or any other injuries, there are ways to prevent injuries during the winter months. There are also simple exercises you can perform to help with pain that is already occurring and well established.
In order to prevent and treat winter injuries, we need to look at what is causing these injuries.
In this article, we will discuss some of the causes, some preventative tips, and a few exercises to assist in pain management if pain does occur.
What Causes Pain In Winter?
So why do we seem to have more aches and pains in the winter months?
Well for one, it is colder which causes our muscles to tense up.
We’ve all been there, walking outside in the winter and a cool breeze comes our way so we shrug our shoulders up, tighten our back muscles, and shrink every part of our body into our clothes to prevent the cold air from touching our skin.
All this repeated tension can lead to the shortening of our tissue which in turn restricts motion and causes pain, whether that be in the form of back pain, headaches, etc.
The shortening of the muscles also leads to weakness and possible strain once you do try to utilize them. We see that in the cause of shoveling snow, which is our next main cause. Not only are the muscles more susceptible to weakness and strain when shoveling, but we tend to overwork our bodies when shoveling as well.
We lift too much snow or lift wrong or even shovel for too long, which can lead to all sorts of aches and pains in our low back, arms, or legs.
Another main cause for all the aches and pains is ice. With the freezing of our sidewalks and driveways comes slipping and falling. Fractured wrists, low back pain, and hip pain all are common after a fall on the ice. Ice can also cause shoulder pain when trying to chip the ice with a shovel or an ice pick.
Regardless of the cause, the good thing is that there are many ways to prevent and rehab some of the aches and pains the winter months bring. Below are a few tips on prevention and some advice for rehabilitation for the causes and injuries mentioned above.
How Can You Prevent Pain From Winter?
- The Cold: The cold, as we said, causes increased tension in our muscles which can lead to decreased motion, strains, and weakness. The best way to prevent this is to make sure to wear warm clothes including a hat, gloves, and a scarf. Most of us knew that already, but another way to prevent the cold from causing pain is to be conscious of tensing your muscles for too long.When walking your dog or even just walking out in the cold to your car, think about how you are walking and if you are tightening any of your muscles.The most common place we tense up when we are cold is in our shoulders. We shrug our shoulders up to protect our neck from the cold. Try to relax your muscles as you are walking and move your body the way you would when you normally walk.Swinging your arms, slightly rotating your trunk, keeping your shoulders away from your ears are just a few examples of decreasing the tension you put in your tissues out in the cold.
- Shoveling: Shoveling snow is not the best activity for our body but it must be done. Obviously, the best way to prevent injuries from shoveling snow is to utilize a snowblower but sometimes we don’t have that option.That is why, when getting a shovel, we should look for a good ergonomic shovel that prevents extra strain on your body. Now there are a lot of types of “ergonomic” shovels, so it can be hard to choose.The characteristics you should look for in a shovel are ones that either prevent the body from lifting such as push and slide shovels or one that decreases the amount lifted (which could be a smaller shovel or a two-handled shovel that distributes the weight).If you still use a shovel that requires you to lift, some ways to prevent injury are:
- Lifting with your legs to prevent extra work for your back muscles
- Keeping the load close to your body once lifted
- Pivoting your feet, not your trunk, when moving the snow
No matter what shovel you go with, be sure to take frequent breaks to your muscles to recover and prevent overworking injuries.
- Ice: The big risk factor with ice is falling. Therefore, the best way to prevent falling is to get rid of the ice. Utilize salt when you can and try to avoid chipping ice which can lead to shoulder pain. Making sure your legs are strong and your balance is good are other ways to prevent falling. When winter comes it is easy to stop exercising and snuggle up on the couch and watch movies. This can lead to weakness and impaired balance.So instead of avoiding the elements, continue to walk, pick up snowshoeing, join an exercises class, or any way to stay active. If you do stay inside and watch movies, perform squats while you are watching. Starting with 8-12 squats every 15min to half an hour can help you increase your leg strength. Another way is to try and balance on one leg (using a counter or table in case you become unsteady) for as long as you can.
As that gets easy, try turning your head while balancing or standing on a pillow to make the ground uneven. Those are just a few exercises to get started preventing falls.
What Exercises Can You Do For Common Winter injuries:
- Back pain:
- Lower trunk rotation: Lay with your back flat on the ground and knees bent again. This time, drop your knees to one side so that your lower back rotates. Then drop your knees to the other side. Perform 15-20 times to improve mobility in the lower back.
- Bridges: Lay with your back flat on the ground and your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor. Proceed to lift your butt off the ground driving through your heels. Perform 8-10 times.
- Bird dogs: Starting on your hands and knees, engage your low back and core to straighten your back out. You should continue to engage your lower back and core throughout the whole exercise so that your back stays in a neutral position with no arching or sagging. Next proceed to raise the opposite arm with the opposite leg. Be careful to not raise either too high to compensate the low back position. Then proceed to perform with the other arm and leg. Perform 6-8 times.
- See also our blog on back pain for more ideas!
- Neck foam rolling – you can either order a peanut foam roller or what I like to do is take two tennis balls and place them in a sock tying a knot in the end, so they don’t fall out. Next while laying on your back place the peanut at the base of your skull and gently move your head up and down like you’re shaking your head yes. You can do this for a minute or so and then switch to shaking your head no.
- Open books – lay on your side with your head resting on a pillow. Bring your knees up as high as they can go. Next stretch your arms out so they are perpendicular to your body. Keep the bottom arm down as you bring the other arm up and over to your other side. Keep your head in line with the top arm to get rotation in your neck. Then repeat 20 times each time trying to stretch a little further. Then perform on the other side.
- Upper trapezius stretch – In sitting tilt your head to one side keeping the opposite shoulder down. Tilt your head to the point where you feel a stretch. Proceed to hold in this position for 30seconds.
- Chin tucks: Laying down on your back, draw your chin and back of your head straight down into the surface you are laying on. Think about trying to make a double chin. Hold this for 5 seconds and then repeat 10-15 times.
- See also our blog about neck pain for more information
How Can We Help With Your Pain?
Winter can be a great time with lots of new sports and activities but as shown above can come with aches and pains.
We can always put in preventative measures to avoid injuries, but we can never fully avoid them. If you do happen to get injured during this winter season and none of the exercises above help alleviate the symptoms, reach out to us here at PRO Therapy!
We specialize in individuals with injuries caused by the winter elements. Whether it be headaches or pain in the low back, shoulder, hip, wrist, etc. we can meet you where you are at.
At PRO, we come alongside to provide individualized care to help you reach your specific goals so you can enjoy all the fun activities winter brings! Give us a call to set up a free discovery visit or free talk to PT to see if physical therapy is right for you.