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Winter Precautions

January 13, 2012

We just got our first winter storm with lots of ice and snow on the ground. That means sidewalks and street corner are going to be very slippery and the chances of you falling are very high.

So what should you do in the case of an accident like a fall and you have an aching back injury? Here’s some advice.

Wear the Right Snow Boots

Snow boots maybe large and clumsy to wear and track in a lot of mud and snow, but they are superior when it comes to keeping traction as you walk. This is so important for anyone who is out shopping or going to work. You usually have to walk across a parking lot to get where you are going. The danger there is with the black ice–ice patches that are hard to see against the black pavement.

Wearing snow boots will give you better traction for your feet than dress shoes or tennis shoes, preventing you from falling.

Shorten Your Stride

When walking try to take shorter steps. This is especially important for anyone who is tall and typically has a longer stride. Putting too  much distance from your feet can force pressure on your feet at an angle that is like causing it to slide. Instead, take shorter steps and plant your entire foot down at the same time, not your heel first. And never run.

What to Do If You Fall

If you do fall on the ice and feel like you’ve hurt your back, the first thing you should do is try to get up slowly. Get up on all fours, hands and knees, being careful not to slip again as you try to stand. Keep you hand on some kind of stable object, like a rail or a car.

A fall on the ice can lead to a deep muscle strain in your back. Once you get to a safe place, say your desk or couch, try to do some light stretching and take it easy for a few hours. It may be helpful to take some ibuprofen or Tylenol for those who are cleared to take it.

Put Ice on the Injury

When you are resting put some ice on the injury for the next 48 hours, or until the swelling and inflammation goes down. Ice always relieves pain better than heat. Apply a heat pack after a few days if your back doesn’t feel any better. Avoid using electric heating pads since these devices can lead to burns. Instead, use a pad you heat in the microwave. A simple home remedy is to get a sock, fill it with rice and tie it off. That heats up well and holds heat. Never leave a heating pad on overnight.

When You Should See a Doctor

Deep muscle strains from falls usually don’t require you seeing a doctor. However, if you have a risk of osteoporosis or thinning bones, you might want to see a doctor who can pull some x-rays. This includes trouble breathing, sitting or standing or if you have a shooting pain running down your leg that occurs any time you try to straighten out your knee. This may be caused by a herniated disc, which can get better but usually requires some PT, maybe injections or even surgery.

Recovery Time of Back Injuries

You can expect most back injuries to get better by a few days if not a few weeks if there aren’t any nerve irritation or fractures in the bones, as proven by a medical evaluation.  Stretching and strength exercises are critical to getting back to health.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer. He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.

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