Summer Safety Tips for Your Neck and Back Health

SpineUniverse Talks with Spine Specialist, Dwight Tyndall, MD
Written by Dwight S. Tyndall, MD, FAAOS
View Original Article on SpineUniverse

As the weather heats up across the country, so does everyone’s physical activity and in turn, so do the chances for neck and back injury. Here are important tips about how to stay safe and healthy—prevent the risks for spine injuries—while being active this summer.

Dangerous Waters—Diving and Water Skiing
“From a young age, children are taught the dangers of diving into shallow and unknown waters, but it’s something I cannot stress enough,” explains Dr. Tyndall. “It puts you at the potential for serious injury to the head and cervical spine, which ultimately can lead to paralysis or even drowning if there is no one there to help.” If you ever think someone has a spine injury from diving, Dr. Tyndall recommends keeping the neck immobilized and transferring to a hospital immediately for definite treatment.

Waterskiing is another water sport that can cause spine injuries, more specifically an axial loading injury such as a compression fracture. Due to the high speed of water skiing, any fall can lead to an injury to the spine if it occurs at an awkward angle. As such, more experienced water skiers will try to fall in a rolling fashion, therefore, avoiding direct or axial loading (top loading) of the spine. To stay safe on the skis, Dr. Tyndall recommends slowly building up confidence and expertise before trying more advanced maneuvers. It is also important to establish good communication signals with the boat driver before getting into the water, so he know when it is time to slow down.

Due to the high speed that occurs with water skiing, any fall can involve a significant amount of energy, which can lead to an injury to the spine if the fall occurs at an awkward angle. As such more experienced water skiers will try to fall in a rolling fashion. Therefore, avoid direct or axial loading of the spine.

Safety on the Greens
While most don’t consider golf to be a dangerous sport, it can lead to lower back injuries. World-famous golfer Tiger Woods is a recent example. He underwent a minimal invasive spine surgery procedure, a microdiscectomy, in the last few months for a herniated disc. It is not confirmed what caused Tiger’s injury, specifically but his golf swing is most likely a large factor. When swinging a golf club, the lumbar spine undergoes a twisting motion which can lead to disc herniation or chronic back pain due to the damage caused to the lumbar disc. This can happen to golfers of all levels and ages, but it is more likely to occur in those who play more frequently.

To avoid injury on the course, Dr. Tyndall recommends the following:

  • Proper stretching: stretching prior to golf or any physical activities allows the muscles to work in a more relaxed, fluid state.
  • Core strengthening: regular exercises to strengthen the core will help golfers not over-swing.
  • Proper swing technique: seeing a golf pro can also help to make sure there’s no over-swing.
  • Avoid over-training: it’s important for golfers (and all athletes) to listen to their bodies and know when they are overdoing it at the gym. Tiger Woods’ doctors suggested that his back pain might have been partly caused by his rigorous workouts in addition to the occupational hazard of swinging a golf club.

CrossFit Controversy and Safety Tips
Although founded in 2000, it’s not until the last few years that CrossFit’s popularity has really skyrocketed. The sport focuses on performing high-intensity exercises in a limited time and has been proven to be very effective in increasing aerobic conditioning and calorie expenditure. “As CrossFit has grown, there has been increased awareness of both the pros and cons of the training regimen,” explains Dr. Tyndall. “On the positive side, it seems clear that the program is successful at getting someone in improved physical shape. On the negative side, there are increasing questions of some of the exercises and the increased risk of injuries, most notably rhabdomyolysis; a muscle breakdown from prolonged, excessive muscle strain.”

Dr. Tyndall shares the following precautions from a spine perspective for those participating in CrossFit:

Athletes should know their limit and their fitness levels.
Athletes should progress at a pace they are comfortable with; although it’s often been said, “there is no gain without pain,” too much pain during a workout can be counter-productive and might even signify a serious injury, such as rhabdomyolysis.
Athletes should progress slowly with any weight training that involves axial (top) loading of the spine (eg, back or neck). This includes dead lift, snatch, or lunges with shoulder weights. It is best to increase leg and torso strength before advancing to these exercises.

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