Keeping yourself healthy during the winter months


With the winter season already upon us, it is an important time of year to take care of yourself. It is easy to neglect your own healthcare needs because you are so busy balancing your life and focusing your attention on others around you. Although it is honorable, it can be difficult to continue taking care of those around you when you are struggling with your own pain, injury, or illness. You may think, my knee will get better if I just rest, I’ll go see my doctor when work calms down, my spouse needs me at home, or simply there aren’t enough hours in the day. Studies show that delaying medical care and treatment lead to worsening symptoms and poorer long-term outcomes. It’s important to make time to take care of yourself, especially with newer technology available, like virtual healthcare. It is important to keep in mind that just because you used to be able to do something, doesn’t mean you that you still should be doing it. Know your limitations. Know when to ask for help. Listen to your family and friends if they are asking you not to do something that could be unsafe. At the Spaulding Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers of Kent Hospital (Care New England), our Occupational Therapists (OT), Physical Therapists (PT), and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) see an uptick of individuals with illnesses, disorders, and winter injuries that cause pain, weakness, and difficulty with normal, everyday tasks. The most common injuries from a fall are hip fractures and knee sprains (PT), wrist fractures (OT), and concussions (SLP). Other injuries are due to overuse. If you know that shoveling snow usually gets you down in the back, take precautions by 1) keeping the shovel close to your body, 2) scooping smaller loads on the shovel, 3) lifting from your knees instead of with your back, 4) moving your feet to face your target when loading/unloading the shovel, and 5) never twisting your back to unload the shovel. You should ask for help or pay someone to do it for you because it isn’t worth the risk. Also, always be extra careful when walking on ice, slippery surfaces and wet areas, and when going up and down stairs by wearing snow boots or shoes with good traction, taking shorter cautious strides, and holding on to rails. In Physical Therapy, we see patients with low back pain that say, my back injury occurred when I picked up a pen off the floor. It was more likely caused by a combination of weakened core strength, incorrect lifting technique, and awkward movements that have caused damage over time. It is typically the straw that broke the camels back. Advice our PTs often give for lifting is to keep a tight core. Imagine being punched in the stomach. You would tense up and tighten your body to protect yourself. That is the technique to use when lifting something  just remember to keep breathing. Keep heavier objects close to the body. For example, stand close to the washer before placing the laundry basket on it, instead of outstretching your arms. This takes pressure off your lower back. Injuries can also occur when placing something heavy in a taller cabinet. You compensate by arching your back, which causes increased pressure on your low back. Have someone else put it up or use a safe stepstool to avoid this type of injury.Speech-Language Pathologists treat cognitive issues such as memory, the effects from concussions, speech disorders, and communication problems. They also treat swallowing disorders, called dysphagia, that can affect a person’s ability to eat, drink, and take medicine. Some of the signs include coughing during or after eating, wet or gurgled voice, feeling like food is stuck in your throat, and pain or discomfort during eating or drinking. The SLPs identify strategies to make swallowing better and safer. Remember, you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. It’s important to know that treatments for all of these issues are available and can greatly improve your quality of life. We can utilize a combination of in-clinic treatment and telehealth to accommodate hectic schedules and desires to stay safe during the pandemic. We can provide beginner training on how to use the virtual technology if needed. Patients of all ages can benefit if it is appropriate for their condition.If you have a concern for yourself or a family member, contact your physician and ask if Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or Speech-Language Pathology at Spaulding Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers of Kent Hospital would help with your recovery. We would love to see you during your journey to wellness. Stay safe!

Luke Davis, OTR/L is the Regional Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation Services at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Care New England.