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Preventing Seasonal Back Pain

Winter Ahead: Don't be Sidelined with Seasonal Back Pain

Leading Rheumatologist Offers Tips to Prevent Seasonal Back Aches: Whether it's raking leaves, shoveling snow, or cleaning out the garage, your back muscles will be strained and abused. For those not prepared, this will mean getting a backache. OurHealthNetwork.com () shares its doctor's tips for avoiding seasonal back pain.

Those lazy days of summer have ended and it's time to prepare your back for the upcoming winter season. Whether it's raking leaves, shoveling snow, or cleaning out the garage, your back muscles will be strained and abused. For those not prepared, this will mean getting a backache.

"Fortunately, with attention to proper techniques and exercise, you can help to prevent seasonal back pain," said Dr. Keith Reich, a board-certified rheumatologist and contributing editor to OurHealthNetwork.com (/). Here are a few tips that Dr. Reich shares with his patients who are prone to back pain:

1. Do not rake, shovel, or lift heavy objects first thing in the morning. Move around a bit and "loosen up." The back is most vulnerable to injury after being at rest all night.
2. Do warm-up and stretching exercises just before beginning the job. Dr. Reich describes several stretches you can do at /conditions/back/MuscleStrainoftheLowerBack.asp#help
3. Try not to twist your spine. If you need to reach for something, turn your entire body, rather than twisting. Twisting along with bending will severely stress the spine and back muscles.
4. Do not use rakes and shovels that are too heavy for you.
5. If you need to lift a heavy load, get help.
6. Take frequent breaks and stretch your back in the opposite direction (lean backward).

Raking leaves and shoveling snow are strenuous activities that, if done properly, will help you burn extra calories and give you a good cardiac workout. If done improperly though, you will experience hours of back pain. If you follow these tips, you will enjoy your raking and shoveling "work outs:"

Raking Tips:
1. Stand straight and walk to the leaves, instead of bending at the waist to reach them.
2. Once you have the leaves under the rake, pull them straight back toward you. Don't twist your body to get another load of leaves.
3. Avoid overuse injury to the back and shoulders by switching sides every few minutes. Rake ten minutes left-handed and another ten minutes right-handed.

Snow Shoveling Tips:
1. Lifting a shovelful of snow should be done with your knees, not your back. Keep your back straight, bend your knees, and lift the snow by straightening your knees.
2. Lift smaller loads of snow rather than heavy shovelfuls.
3. Turn your entire body and step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow. Do not just twist at the waist and throw. Twisting and throwing a heavy load will cause early back fatigue and make the back susceptible to severe injuries.

Heavy Object Lifting Tips:
1. Wear proper shoes with good traction.
2. Wear a lifting belt or back brace.
3. Stand close to the object you wish to lift.
4. Bend at the knees, not at the waist. Keep your back and neck straight so that your head and eyes are directed forward and not down.
5. Contract the stomach muscles, and hold the object close to your body.
6. Lift slowly by standing straight up (un-bending your knees). Allow your legs to lift the weight.

Dr. Reich's Warm-Up Exercises:
1. From the waist, bend forward, backward, and to each side, holding each position for ten seconds. Repeat ten times.
2. Semi-sit ups are great for the abdominal and back muscles. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat five times.
3. Walk around the yard several times.
4. Do several circular arm and neck movements.

When the job is finished, Dr. Reich suggests taking some time out for yourself, and treating your muscles to a warm, soothing bath. This is good therapy for your mind, as well as your back.

Additional tips from Dr. Reich on avoiding back pain can be found at /conditions/back/

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