It’s a busy, chaotic time of year. And for those living in northern climates, this is the season for blowing snow and walking on slick ice. That extra work, and the potential for slips and falls, just adds to the craziness of the season. With the cold temperatures, snow, and icy surfaces, it’s also a time when you should be careful to minimize risks of new back injuries or reinjuring your recovering back. Here are three tips to help you avoid unnecessary pain this season:

Safe snow shoveling. Shoveling snow by hand involves a lot of bending and twisting. The first recommendation is to use a snow blower to help you do the job, but if that’s not feasible, be sure to:

  1. Warm up your muscles with stretching and light lifting.
  2. Pace yourself—take frequent breaks.
  3. Use proper form—lift with your legs and not your back, bending at the knees when lifting and avoiding bending and twisting as much as possible.
  4. Use lightweight, long handled ergonomic shovels to decrease strain on your body.
  5. Wear proper, no-slip footwear to provide support and stability.

Avoiding slips and falls. The force of your body falling on the hard ground can be significant. If you have a fall with acute back pain, you should quickly see a physician to rule out spine fracture or neurologic injury—especially if you have radiating leg pain or numbness anywhere below the waist. To avoid slips and falls:

  1. Wear a rubber-soled shoe in good condition that can provide the traction and support you need on snow and ice.
  2. Watch where you’re going—always be on the lookout for treacherous surfaces and black ice.
  3. Be careful. Even freshly fallen snow can have ice lurking beneath the surface.

Battling cold air. Cold air and moisture, along with drops in barometric, pressure can have a big effect on joints and muscles, so:

  1. Always dress for maximum warmth. Overdress by wearing layers you can shed as the air temperature or your body temperature increase.
  2. Use heating pads on sore, sensitive areas of your muscles.
  3. Again, stretch and keep muscles warm before any outdoor activity. This will help reduce pressure on muscle tendons and ligaments.

If you already experience back pain or have recently had spine surgery, always consult your physician before doing any activity that may contribute to your pain or reinjure your back. If you have your physician’s approval for exercising outdoors, remember these tips to help stay injury free this season.