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Winter Injuries: Protecting Your Back

With winter comes a storm of back injuries. Dr. John Keel, Medical Director of the Spine Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, gives some surprising facts about the top three non-sports related injuries he sees in the cold-weather months - and how these injuries can be prevented.

Top Three Causes of Winter Spine Injuries

snow shoveling

1. Shoveling - even for Mr. Incredible

Yes, people who are out of shape can easily throw their backs out by shoveling heavy snow. But many people seen in Dr. Keel's clinic are surprisingly fit, they just aren't physically trained for the unique movement of snow shoveling.

  • Warm up by doing some basic stretching before you go outside.
  • PUSH the snow away - DON'T twist! If you must "scoop," hold the heavy load close to your body.
  • Shovel small amounts at a time - you are not in a race.

2. Slippery Slopes

Ice can accumulate quickly and be a real challenge for the elderly or anyone who has balance issues. But it can also be a problem for those who put themselves at risk without knowing it.

  • Wear proper shoes. You may be just going from your door to your car, but put on your treaded boots and CARRY your work or dress shoes with you. You may think "it's a short distance, I can make it," but ice can hide anywhere. Or use treaded slip-ons that go over your shoes.
  • Watch where you step. Carrying boxes from the garage into the house, or groceries from the car? Make sure you can see over what you are carrying. Many falls occur when people are holding something and trying to balance on what ends up being a slippery surface.
  • If you have balance issues, use a walking stick with a "pick" attached.

3. Decoration Disasters

Santa may be sure-footed on the roof, but most people aren't, especially once the snow and ice accumulate. Roof falls can cause major spine damage, including spinal cord injury.

  • Hang lights/wreaths before snow falls (if possible)
  • Use a ladder that is dry and place on a steady, non-icy surface
  • Footwear should be non-slip
  • Always have someone help you - never do this alone

Dr. Keel video Video: Dr. Keel Discusses Winter Back Injuries on FOX 25

Dr. Keel visited FOX 25 News to talk about preventing back injuries in the winter months. Watch the video »

For more information, visit the BIDMC Spine Center at

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted December 2011

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Spine Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Clinical Center, Second Floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Contact Information

Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare
(Off-site Primary Care Practices)