Winter brings injuries, illness, snow and ice

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With winter weather slowly but surely coming our way, a local hospital is helping to make sure that we don't get left out in the cold when it comes to health.

"We noted that people winterize their homes, cars and gardens but sometimes don't properly prepare their bodies and minds for the long winter season," said Patty Toner, marketing manager for Canonsburg General Hospital, which held a seminar last week to share cold weather health tips.

"Before you shovel, understand proper back and joint care," Scott Schweizer, an orthopedics and sports medicine specialist, advised.

"Winter is the worst season for stress on the body," he said. "Many people are out of shape and attempt to do strenuous work, such as shoveling snow and ice."

Before starting outdoor tasks, dress warmly and keep hydrated, Dr. Schweizer said. When shoveling snow, he said, start early before a lot of snow has piled up. Anyone experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath should stop immediately, and those who are really out of shape might be better off hiring someone to do the job.

A study by the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission found that 16,500 people visited hospital emergency rooms across the nation in 2009 for sprains and strains to the back and shoulders that occurred during snow and ice removal. Another 6,000 suffered cut fingers or amputations while improperly using a snow blower.

"In my office in the winter, I see lots of patients with broken bones, torn rotator cuffs and lingering sprains and strains who've slipped and fallen," Dr. Schweizer said. "There's a lot that can go wrong when people work outdoors on snow and ice."

Family practitioner Dinesha Weerasinghe said she sees lots of colds and flu at this time of year and noted that many myths surround the two illnesses.

"Many people who come in with a cold or flu ask for antibiotics, but they are only effective against bacterial infections, not viral infections like the flu," she said. "The best prevention is getting an annual flu shot."

Travis Wilson, an interventionist cardiologist, noted that winter and its low temperatures increase the risk of heart attack.

"On a physiological level, when the body is cold, it tries to stay warm by constricting your blood vessels," he said. "This increases your blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack."

Dr. Wilson advised that when doing physical activities such as shoveling snow, it is best to work in short spurts with breaks. Pay attention to symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and lightheadedness, he said.

He also noted that downhill and cross-country skiing taxes the body, especially for those who are out of shape. People unaccustomed to strenuous physical activity should talk with a doctor, he said.

"Know and listen to your body," he said. "A little common sense goes a long way."


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:


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