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How To Take the Pain out of Winter Sports and Chores

Communities across the United States have seen snow and even blizzard-like conditions over the past few weeks. While the snow can mean fun for winter sports enthusiasts, it also can pose problems for the outdoor enthusiasts whose bodies are not in condition.

Winter sports like skating, skiing and sledding can cause painful muscle strains or tears if you're not in shape. Even shoveling snow the wrong way, clambering awkwardly over snow banks and slipping on sidewalks can all pose the potential for strains and sprains.

And poor clothing choices can hurt as well: simply walking outside in the freezing weather without layers of warm clothing can intensify older joint problems and cause a great deal of pain. As muscles and blood vessels contract to conserve the body's heat, the blood supply to extremities is reduced, lowering the functional capacity of many muscles — particularly among the physically unfit.

The American Chiropractic Association has devised a list of tips to help you avoid the hazards of winter:

For the sports enthusiast:

To help condition your body, at-home stretching exercises come first. Focus on lower back muscles, hamstrings and calf muscles. Then, to take off the chill that settles in on the way to your rink, pond or hilltop, you should warm up just before you start a sport:

Skiing — Do 10 to 15 squats. Stand with your legs shoulders' width apart, knees aligned over your feet. Slowly lower your buttocks as you bend your knees over your feet. Stand up straight again.

Skating — Do several lunges. Take a moderately advanced step with one foot. Let your back knee come down to the floor while keeping your shoulders in position over your hips. Repeat the process with your other foot.

Sledding/tobogganing — Do knee-to-chest stretches to fight compression injuries caused by repetitive bouncing over the snow. Either sitting or lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and hold for up to 30 seconds.

Don't forget cool-down stretching for all of these sports. At the bottom of the sledding hill, for instance, before trudging back up, do some more knee-to-chest stretches or repetitive squatting movements to restore flexibility.

For everyone:

If you must shovel snow, be careful. Listen to weather forecasts so you can rise early and have time to shovel before work. Otherwise, you may be so pressed for time, you'll be careless.

Layer clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible.

Shoveling can strain "de-conditioned" muscles between your shoulders, in your upper back, lower back, buttocks and legs. So, do some warm-up stretching before you pick up that shovel.

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing