Physical therapist shares keys to winter safety

By: Sherri Kolade | Southfield Sun | Published December 23, 2013

 Donald Fend clears a sidewalk in Fraser during the winter of 2011.

Donald Fend clears a sidewalk in Fraser during the winter of 2011.

File photo by David Schreiber

METRO DETROIT — To prevent potential falls during the winter season, fashionistas, ease up on the Uggs.

Romulus physical therapist Emily Miller, of the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, said wearing solid shoes with good traction is key to avoiding weather-related injuries.

“Slip-and-falls are kind of a common injury we would see from a physical therapy standpoint. … Sometimes (ice) is kind of hidden,” she said. “There is fresh snow on the ground, and what you don’t see is that black ice, so that is where good footwear is important. The Uggs are cute, but they are probably not the most stable for your feet. They don’t have really good traction; those aren’t your snow boots.”

Miller said that in addition to proper footwear, correct posture is necessary when shoveling snow.

“The key is using body mechanics, what we call using proper posture when you are performing any kind of activities, whether it is lifting and carrying, things like that,” she said.

One healthy shoveling technique includes using curved shovels, which Miller described as “ergonomically correct for good leverage.”

“Go with one you can lift,” she said. “There are metal ones, plastic ones — ideally, most of these plastic ones are very solid now. They can push the snow quite easily without the extra weight.”

When shoveling, it is ideal to have one’s arms spread to maintain good posture of the back, she said, and use the body’s larger muscles, such as the legs and arms, versus the lower back, which should be straight. Knees should be bent a bit, Miller said.

“When you are lifting (snow) up, lift up from your knees and straighten out,” Miller said. “You don’t want to use your back. They are not meant to be a big pusher. They are more stabilizing muscles.”

Although these rules are essential to staying healthy while shoveling snow, one golden rule must always be heeded: “If you are feeling any pain, stop doing it,” Miller said. 

To prevent weather-related injuries, Dr. Robert L. Sherwin, emergency department critical care director at the Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace Hospital, said the rules of safety this season include wearing proper clothing and checking weather reports before heading out, among other things.

“Plan ahead and make sure you are aware of the weather, no matter where you are going. I have heavy boots, a hat and pair of gloves in my car in case I spin out in the middle of the freeway driving to work and it is 10 degrees,” he said.

Sherwin added that heavy drinking could impair one’s judgment when it comes to the cold, and people should be aware.

“Excessive alcohol intake can make you unaware that your body temperature is dropping, and it can become a precipitous and quite dangerous drop, and sometimes a life-threatening hypothermia (situation),” he said.

Sherwin said that for frostbite, taking immediate action is also important.

“If you have any signs (that) you are losing feeling in your hands and toes, make sure you seek out a warm place immediately,” he said. “Avoid aggressive rubbing of that area. It can actually cause damage. If you have a cold-induced injury, that tissue could become frozen and it could cause a bigger problem.”

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