Snow, Shoveling and Your Back
What You Need to Know This Winter

It's cold, wet, and snowing - it's winter in Michigan. From the freezing temperatures and bad roads to the regular coatings of fluffy, heavy white snow, you know that this time of the year usually means frequent shoveling. And, by this point, we're sure your back is already hurting just thinking about it.
In addition to the pain the weather causes for driving, you could also be feeling the physical pain without ever leaving your driveway. The repetitive aerobic and weightlifting aspects of shoveling can be strenuous and, if done frequently, could be a real pain in your back. Your first thought might be to get an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan for that back pain but, more often than not, these kinds of imaging tests won't help you feel better quickly - and they may even cause harm.
As a part of the Choosing Wisely ® initiative, Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) indicate that most people with back pain typically feel better within a month - with or without an imaging test. Imaging tests can also be costly, ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands, and may lead to unnecessary surgeries and other extra costs. Additionally, X-rays and CT scans use radiation which can pose health risks through repeated exposure. However, Consumer Reports and the AAFP suggest using imaging tests for low-back pain right away when you have certain symptoms, such as with weight loss you can't explain, a fever over 102, loss of control of your bladder or bowel, loss of feeling or strength in your legs, or a history of cancer.
With this winter already shaping up to be frosty and full of snow, you might be doing a whole lot of shoveling. OUCH! But what can you do to reduce the pain and get yourself feeling better, faster? Consumer Reports and the AAFP recommends following these steps:

Stay active. Walking is a good way to ease lower back pain. If you stay in bed, it can take longer to get better. Staying in bed can make you get stiff, weak, and even depressed. Get up and move.

Use heat. Heat relaxes your muscles. Try a heating pad, electric blanket, warm bath, or shower.

Take over-the-counter medicines. To help relieve pain and reduce swelling, try over-the-counter pain medicines. Remember, generic medicines cost less than brand names and work just as well. Try generic ibuprofen (brand: Advil or Motrin IB) or generic naproxen (brand: Aleve).

Sleep on your side or on your back. Lie on your side with a pillow between your knees. Or lie on your back with one or more pillows under your knees.

Talk to your doctor. If your pain is very bad, ask about prescription pain medicines. If they do not help within a few days, talk with your doctor again. Ask if the pain might be caused by a serious health problem.

Find out about other ways to treat back pain. If you still have pain after a few weeks, you may want to ask your doctor about other treatments for lower-back pain. Treatments include:
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
Check if your health insurance pays for any of these treatments.  

Remember, nothing can replace informed decisions made between you and your doctor, and using the 5 Questions can help you get started.

If you know anything about Michigan, you know that the winters are never predictable . But what we do know is that shoveling - and the lower-back pain that comes with it - is more often than not an inevitable and annoying side-effect of the weather. During these winter months remember to follow the above steps to help you feel better, faster, and to always Choose Wisely.

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