When snow, ice and frigid weather blast into town, watch out, says the
American Chiropractic Association (ACA). Winter recreational activities
and chores can pose problems for the outdoor enthusiast whose body is not
in condition. Winter sports like skating, skiing and sledding can cause
painful muscle spasms, strains or tears if you’re not in shape. Even shoveling
snow the wrong way, clambering awkwardly over snow banks, slipping on sidewalks
and wearing the wrong kinds of clothing can all pose the potential for
spasms, strains and sprains.
Simply walking outside in the freezing weather without layers of warm
clothing can intensify older joint problems and cause a great deal of pain.
As muscles and blood vessels contract to conserve the body’s heat, the
blood supply to extremities is reduced. This lowers the functional capacity
of many muscles, particularly among the physically unfit. Preparation for
an outdoor winter activity, including conditioning the areas of the body
that are most vulnerable, can help avoid injury and costly health care
“Simply put, warming up is essential,” says Olympic speedskating gold
and silver medallist Derek Parra. “In fact, when pressed for time, it’s
better to shorten the length of your workout and keep a good warm-up than
to skip the warm-up and dive right into the workout. Skipping your warm-up
is the best way to get hurt.” Parra, who took both the gold and silver
medals during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, adds that, “You
can complete a good warm-up in 15-20 minutes. And believe me, it will make
your workout more pleasant and safe.”
Derek Parra and the ACA suggest that you start with some light aerobic
activity (jogging, biking, fast walking) for about 7-10 minutes. Then follow
these tips to help you fight back the winter weather:
- Skiing – do 10 to 15 squats. Stand with your legs shoulder width apart,
knees aligned over your feet. Slowly lower your buttocks as you bend
your knees over your feet. Stand up straight again.
- Skating – do several lunges. Take a moderately advanced step with one
foot. Let your back knee come down to the floor while keeping your shoulders
in position over your hips. Repeat the process with your other foot.
- Sledding/tobogganing – do knee-to-chest stretches to fight compression
injuries caused by repetitive bouncing over the snow. Either sitting
or lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and hold for up
to 30 seconds.
- Don’t forget cool-down stretching for all of these sports – At the bottom
of the sledding hill, for instance, before trudging back up, do some
more knees-to-chest stretches, or repetitive squatting movements to restore
Shoveling snow can also wreak havoc on the musculoskeletal system. The
ACA suggests the following tips for exercise of the snow shoveling variety:
- If you must shovel snow, be careful. Listen to weather forecasts so you
can rise early and have time to shovel before work.
- Layer clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible.
- Shoveling can strain “de-conditioned” muscles between your shoulders,
in your upper back, lower back, buttocks and legs. So, do some warm-up
stretching before you grab that shovel.
- When you do shovel, push the snow straight ahead. Don’t try to throw it.
Walk it to the snow bank. Avoid sudden twisting and turning motions.
- Bend your knees to lift when shoveling. Let the muscles of your legs and
arms do the work, not your back.
- Take frequent rest breaks to take the strain off your muscles. A fatigued
body asks for injury.
- Stop if you feel chest pain, or get really tired or have shortness of
breath. You may need immediate professional help.
After any of these activities, if you are sore, apply an ice bag to the
affected area for 20 minutes, then take it off for a couple of hours. Repeat
a couple of times each day over the next day or two.