Injuries caused by Winter slips and falls start to take their toll at this time of year. Add to that having to shovel the wetter, heavier near-Spring snow and it is no wonder why many people feel beat up by the Winter. In this article, I’ll shed some light on why hip pain on both sides is common just now. I’ll also explain the most common problems shoveling snow can produce.
The most underrated problem caused by Winter is the different use of hip, leg and back muscles because of slippery footing. As soon as the temperature dips below 32 degrees, whether you are young or old, athletic or not, you shorten your steps and tighten your leg muscles as you walk. It is your natural defense against black ice or that slippery spot hiding under the snow. You may not even be aware of it, but your muscles go into overdrive trying to protect you.
For example, the adductor or inside leg muscles (groin muscles), whose job it is to bring the legs toward each other, work hard to make sure that if your foot slips, you don’t end up doing the splits. The outside hip muscles or abductor muscles, tighten to counterbalance the adductor muscles. Abductor muscles also work harder than normal to stabilize the pelvis and control your center of gravity as you anticipate the amount of friction under your feet. Even a small change in grade will alter all these compensations, which happen instantaneously. That is one reason why, even if you haven’t slipped or fallen, you may feel soreness and pain in your hip and outside leg muscles.
If you do slip, catching yourself is sometimes just as problematic as actually falling. This is especially true if you come down hard on one foot or get a front-to-back jolt as your foot slides forward. Catching yourself sideways, when your foot slips out to the left or right, can also cause a serious problem because of the twisting action that sometimes occurs. These incidents can lock the sacroiliac joint (one of the joints in the pelvis) or the facet joints (the joints between two vertebrae). Often, pain from these types of injuries can be sharp and may result in spasms when you make certain movements or move from sitting to standing.
A good defense against slippery footing is a product called Yak Trax. These wire-coiled webs slip onto the bottom of your shoes, sneakers or boots. Because they don’t have sharp prongs like ice cleats, you can walk inside or on a wooden deck without damaging the surface. They give significant traction, even on glare ice. You can order them online at Yaktrax.com or purchase them at EMS stores.
Falls are also common reasons for injuries. They can cause broken bones, contusions, concussions, and a variety of strains and sprains. If you have osteoporosis, take special care because your bones are brittle.
Lastly, shoveling snow also takes its toll. There simply is no good way to biomechanically lift, twist and then throw snow without causing torque to your trunk. Some helpful hints to minimize problems include using a “Back Saver” shovel and bending your knees when lifting snow. The best solution, however, is to use a snow blower. If a heavy self-propelled machine is cumbersome, there are lighter push models that throw snow 20 feet. Investing in such equipment or hiring someone to handle these tasks will pay off.
If you do end up as a casualty of the season, a visit to a physical therapist specializing in manual therapy can offer relief. After a thorough evaluation of the complex biomechanical imbalances that can occur, the physical therapist can make corrections and teach you a program for strengthening your core stabilizers.