Do you have to remove a lot of snow? The freezing temperatures alone can worsen the pain in your joints but shoveling can cause damage or even worsen an existing injury. Frigid temperatures may increase pre-existing joint pain as tissues in joints can swell. There is also less Vitamin D (which provides strength to bones) being absorbed in the winter months because of the shorter amounts of daylight and more time being spent indoors. When out in the cold, blood circulation can also decrease as the body conserves warm blood in order to maintain normal heart function. All of these effects from the cold may cause your joints to become stiff, inflexible and oftentimes painful.
Joint injuries, especially in the shoulder and knee have become an increasing issue for many Americans during the winter. This in part is due to shoveling, specifically the act of lifting a snow-filled shovel above the level of your shoulder.
Follow a few of these quick tips to make sure you have a safe and pain free winter:
- Don’t throw the snow so high.
- Include a diet of foods rich in Vitamin K, D and C (like oranges, spinach, cabbage and tomatoes). These foods play an important role in the production of cartilage and help the body absorb calcium, strengthening the bones.
- Take it slow! Shoveling (like lifting weights) can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically.
- Push the snow as you shovel rather than lifting it, as it is easier on your back
- If you are going to lift the snow, lift with your legs bent and your back straight. By bending and “sitting” into the movement, you’ll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Your shoulders, torso and thighs can do the work for you.
- Before you take on the snow, be sure to warm up and stretch. This will help prevent aches and joint pain later.
- If you do suffer any pain from shoveling, you should make an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later.
- Exercise regularly. It not only helps you lose weight but also increases flexibility and strengthens the muscles that support the knee (e.g. aerobics, walking, swimming or cycling).
If you believe you have injured a joint here are some general warnings and suggestions:
- Stop the activity immediately.
- Wrap the injured part in a compression bandage.
- Apply ice to the injured part (use a bag of crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables).
- Elevate the injured part to reduce swelling.
- Consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis of any serious injury.
- Rehabilitate your injury under professional guidance.
We hope everyone stays warm and continues to make smart and healthy choices in 2014! In the meantime, learn more about your joint pain.