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How to Avoid Back Injury in Snowy, Icy Conditions

January 20, 2022

Winter is here in New England and that means ice, sleet and snow – a perfect storm for slips, falls and back problems. Hartford HealthCare’s Jocelyn Maminta recently spoke with orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Gerard Girasole, co-medical director at the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, on how to avoid back injury during the winter. “We see injuries all the time, but winter has its own causes and one would be activities such as skiing and shoveling,” Dr. Girasole said. “The other thing is that most people aren't exercising. They're hibernating, which leads to a deconditioning of their core. Then if they go out and do something, such as shoveling, they injure their back.” When it comes to shoveling, what is the best way to avoid injury? Dr. Girasole recommends:

  • Shoveling in stages instead of waiting until a large amount of snow has fallen.
  • Pushing the snow rather than scooping and throwing it over the shoulder.
For walking in icy conditions, he says:
  • Have one foot on the ground and use the other foot to test the ground in front of you.
  • Advance one foot at a time as opposed to trying to walk normally.
  • Remember that black ice comes in patches.
Wondering when to see a doctor for your back pain? Dr. Girasole says if you start to develop nerve pain down the leg, such as sciatica, or if the pain does not go away after using an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory it is time to make an appointment. “The misconception is that back pain is caused by a pulled muscle, but most back pain that we see is due to injury or irritation to the joints in the back,” he explained. “Just like you have joints in your knee, you have joints in the back. When people injure themselves or stress the joint, the body tells the muscles that attach to the joints to tighten up to give you support. So it's not muscle strain, it's the joint affecting the muscles.” Surgery is the last option when it comes to back pain; in fact, 85 to 90 percent of individuals with chronic back pain do not need surgery. Physical therapy and steroid injections are the first lines of defense. “Usually if it's between four to six weeks of treatment, and someone is not getting better, then we would suggest surgical intervention,” Dr. Girasole said.