How to Stay Well this Winter
In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts discuss how to stay well this winter, including:
Is the Cold Causing My Stiff Back? Tips for Preventing an Aching Back This Winter
Back pain is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits, especially during winter weather. Some of those injuries happen after it snows and people try to shovel. Prepare in advance before you begin. First, choose the right snow shovel; those with a curved or adjustable handle will help minimize bending over, which often causes back pain. It also helps to loosen up muscles beforehand to avoid injury. Warm up simply by marching in place and doing some quick stretches.
It’s also important to use ergonomic lifting techniques to avoid injury:
- When possible, push snow to one side rather than lifting it.
- If you have to lift the shovel full, grip it with one hand as close to the blade as comfortably possible.
- Bend at the hips, not your lower back, and push your chest out. Bend your knees and lift with leg muscles, keeping your back straight.
- Do not extend your arms to throw the snow.
If you feel yourself falling, try to land on your side or buttocks. Do not fight the fall, and try to roll somewhat naturally, allowing your head to turn the direction of the roll.
If you do experience mild back or neck pain, try to rest and recuperate at home first by following this plan:
- One day of bed rest
- Take anti-inflammatories
- Ice regularly – 10 minutes on and 20 minutes off
If back or neck pain persists for longer than 2 weeks or gets progressively worse, it’s time to visit a spine specialist.
Dahari Brooks, MD, is a spine surgeon in Greensboro and a member of the Cone Health Medical and Dental Staff. Brooks received his Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience from the University of Rochester and his Doctor of Medicine from Cornell University Medical College. He completed his surgical internship and orthopedic residency at the University of Rochester and his spine fellowship at the State University of New York at Syracuse University. His training focused on degenerative conditions of the spine as well as spinal malignancy, trauma and deformity.
Food Safety During Winter Power Outages
With winter in full swing, it’s always good to prepare ahead of time if icy or snowy weather is in the forecast and there is the threat of a power outage. Eating spoiled or toxic food can lead to food poisoning, which can cause uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous health complications. As you plan ahead, consume food items you don’t want to lose. Turn your freezer to the coldest setting, and freeze items like meat so they have a better chance of staying safe if the power goes out. Fill containers with water and place them in the freezer—the extra ice will keep it colder for a longer period of time. Additionally, you can stock up on emergency supplies, like extra gas for your grill, and nonperishable food like cereal, peanut butter, crackers, nuts, fruit and canned tuna or chicken.
During a power outage, try to open your refrigerator and freezer as little as possible. If you cook on a grill or camp stove, do so outside. You can also make overnight oats by soaking oats in water and adding cinnamon, fruit and nuts in the morning for a balanced meal.
Once the power is back on, identify what is safe to keep. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours. Food is only safe in a refrigerator for 4 hours. Any food with ice crystals or that is at or below 40 degrees can be refrozen. The following are safe if kept above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours:
- Hard cheese and butter.
- Opened juice.
- Condiments – ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, taco sauce.
- Olives and pickles.
- Uncut raw vegetables or fruit.
You should then identify what to throw out. Meat, dairy products, dough and cooked pasta should all be thrown away. Throw out anything that has an unusual smell, color, texture or feels warm to the touch.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has eaten spoiled food and has food poisoning, reach out to your primary care provider for assistance.
Laura Jobe, RD, LDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian with Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services and has been working for Cone Health for more than 25 years. Jobe received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and diatetics from Central Michigan University in 1991.
Don’t Forget About Your Skin
Cold winter weather can be tough on your skin. In the winter, the cold air can dry out our skin, which can cause itching and often leads to a condition called eczema. There are 2 main types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, which is related to genetics and tends to occur year-round, and dry skin eczema, which anyone can get if their skin is dry enough. Symptoms include red, scaly and itchy areas of skin. Fortunately, there are good treatments and also some ways to help prevent eczema.
Those with dry skin or eczema should develop a special skin care regimen, especially in the winter. Steps include:
- Making sure you’re not using a drying soap. Use a gentle, hydrating soap that is made for sensitive skin.
- Using lukewarm, not hot, water when washing your hands and bathing since hot water can be drying.
- Patting your skin dry, leaving it a bit damp and applying a heavy, creamy moisturizer or even an ointment. Thin lotions do not work nearly as well as moisturizing creams or ointments. Many products that specifically target eczema are good choices.
If you have eczema that does not clear with a good skin care regimen, you should talk to your doctor about prescription treatments to clear up your eczema.
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you should skip your sunscreen. Sun protection is still very important in winter as you still accumulate sun damage, and sunlight also decreases the immune system in your skin. Normally our immune systems help protect us from infections, precancers and cancers. However, after just a few minutes of sun exposure, the immune system in the skin can be decreased for several days, so that it is not as able to fight off developing precancers or skin cancer. If you take part in winter sports, it is also extra important to reapply sunscreen because of the sun’s reflection off of the snow.
It’s recommended you use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for daily wear, and a sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher that is also water and sweat resistant if you are going to be outside and active. Sunscreens containing zinc or titanium oxide are a little more effective, but you may prefer one that says “clear” or “invisible” since the others can sometimes make the skin look white.
Virginia Moye, MD, MPH, is a board-certified dermatologist at Alamance Skin Center, and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from North Carolina State University. Moye received both her master’s degree in public health and doctorate of medicine from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.