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Slow down, be aware when it comes to navigating wintry conditions

Slow down, be aware when it comes to navigating wintry conditions
Carle Therapy Services’ physical and occupational therapists treat a number of winter related injuries and painful conditions that are easily preventable. Injuries often happen because someone was in a hurry, used poor body mechanics when shoveling, or wasn’t paying attention to the conditions under their feet.

Concussions, sprained or broken ankles, herniated discs, neck/back strains and rotator cuff injuries are just some of the winter-related injuries commonly found at Carle Therapy Services. 

“A key thing to remember when traversing winter weather is you do not have to get your task accomplished in 10 minutes. Slow down and be aware of the surface you are using as well as your surroundings,” Adam Johnson, PT, said. Johnson is an experienced member of the therapy team at Carle which provides individualized care and treatment plans for patients at multiple facilities.

While patients hurt their backs working in the yard or even sitting incorrectly, winter causes further complications. Snow seems to be occurring less in central Illinois, but when it does the results from walking on slippery paved parking lots, texting while walking, shoveling snow and just getting into a vehicle from a slippery surface can wreak havoc on a person’s wellbeing.

“People often injure their necks when they fall down,” Johnson said. There is a jerking reaction that often occurs, putting strain on the neck similar to a whiplash injury, he said. Spinal fractures and herniated discs from winter falls often require weeks of therapy.

The amount of physical therapy needed varies with the diagnosis and severity. Mild back, neck and lower extremity strains may need two to four weeks of physical therapy. Severe cases may need 3-6 months. 
Spine physical therapy at the Neuroscience Institute emphasizes self-treatment.  It normally begins with finding pain relieving exercises, positions and postures to expedite healing and restore pain free range of motion.  After controlling pain, strengthening exercises improve function and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Injuries improve with therapy, but wintry falls or injuries sometimes result in individuals not making a full recovery, left with lifelong pain, weakness, and loss of joint mobility especially when not checked out by a specialist, he said.

For example, someone who breaks an ankle falling on the ice may always have some pain or stiffness in that ankle. Johnson said he has seen individuals who fell on the ice, tore a rotator cuff, did not have the injury looked at right away, and are now permanently disabled, unable to raise their arm to shoulder level.

When shoveling, every 10 minutes or so, stop, stand straight, ensure you have good footing and then bend back in the opposite direction, Johnson said. The bending reverses the strain put on your back from all of the forward bending, he said.

Some patients fall on slippery pavement standing next to their cars where there may be black ice, Johnson said.  “Ice likes to hide right next to your car.” They may slip upon opening the door or as they put one foot inside the vehicle, so it may be safer to keep both feet on the ground and lead with your bottom when getting inside a car parked on icy pavement.

Also of note, Johnson said is the elderly person or the sedentary individual who are more prone to falling. “The more sedentary you are the weaker your muscles are, and you need extra muscle power to correct or prevent a fall,” he said.

Have a game plan in place for removing removing snow and keep yourself safe, Johnson said. He offers a few tips for shoveling snow safely.   

Snow Shoveling Tips
  • Try to use a shovel with an ergonomic, goose neck handle.
  • Feet wide apart, staggered stance (one foot in front of the other), put your weight on the front foot. Put the back of your shovel-handle hand against your leg or pelvis. Push the shovel forward with your leg/pelvis. 
  • With snow in the shovel, shift your weight to your back foot to keep the loaded shovel closer to your body. Lift with your legs as much as possible. Keep an arch in your lower back the whole time.
  • Pivot your feet and shift your body in the direction of the shovel rather than twisting. Simultaneous bending and twisting with weight is a common cause of lumbar disc herniation. For smaller snowfalls, push the shovel to pile up the snow. Push with your leg or pelvis, keeping your posture upright.   
  • When shoveling snow, take breaks every 10 minutes. Stand up straight and do 10-15 backward bends, and 10 neck retractions. Walk around for a minute or two to let your spinal tissues rebound.
 A quick review of all Therapy Services offered at Carle is available at

Categories: Staying Healthy, Community

Tags: snow, therapy, winter