How to know if it’s a tweak or something more serious:
The Reno-Tahoe area is buzzing with excitement over the recent record snowfall in January that has coated the Sierra Nevada in pure white powder. I’m hoping everyone has had a chance to get out and enjoy the beautiful winter in their own way. Whether you’re a snowshoer or a downhill shredder, the snow and terrain challenges our bodies in ways we don’t normally encounter most days. Occasionally, this leads to falls, tweaks, twists and discomfort that leaves you wondering if the injury is serious or will just work its way out with time.
Our knees and spine are particularly vulnerable to injury during outdoor adventures, especially in deep snow, which can be unpredictable. Aside from pain, be on the lookout for swelling, redness, warmth and decreased range of motion in the affected area. Obviously, these suggestions apply to injuries that aren’t immediately thought to be serious (i.e. broken bones, head injury) but if you twisted your knee funny on a turn, or have aching in your back after a fall, then these 5 tips can help you recover as quickly as possible, and get back to enjoying the snow:
1. Know the warning signs and when to consult a professional
Some symptoms are considered more significant than others and should lead you to a professional immediately. These include: suspected head injury, dizziness, loss of consciousness, bleeding, suspected dislocation of a joint, pronounced numbness or tingling in a limb or changes in bowel or bladder control. These signs indicate a more severe type of injury and are worthy of immediate medical attention. If you made it off the mountain and back home and haven’t exhibited any of the above symptoms, then try the following tips. Keep in mind that every situation is different and when in doubt, contact a physician or urgent care.
2. Rest a full 24 hours
This one seems like a no-brainer but sometimes it’s tough to know when to stay off an injury or keep it moving. Give yourself a full 24 hours of rest including keeping the part elevated above the level of the heart, icing it for 20 minutes at a time every hour and avoiding activities that increase pain. Also, protect the area using a gently wrapped compression bandage
3. Move in non-painful ways
Muscles will begin atrophy (decline in strength) in only a matter of days when they go unused, so to prevent atrophy and additional loss of motion, find exercises or activities that don’t increase pain. This could include taking an easy walk, pedaling a stationary bike with light resistance, rising up on your toes while holding on to a counter for safety. Also, maintaining the range of motion in the other joints surrounding the injury (i.e. if the knee is hurt, make sure you continue to move the hip and ankle) helps minimize the impact of the injury on the rest of the body. These are just a few ideas and other options will depend on your personal situation, however the key is to only do movements that do not increase the pain or create new symptoms.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is crucial for healing so find a position where the injury is supported and can rest. Try sleeping on your side with a large body pillow or king pillow between the knees and hug a pillow to your chest. This position helps maintain the proper alignment of the spine decreasing strain. The second position is on your back with a large pillow under your knees and thighs, this position takes the strain off the lower back and hamstrings. When the body can rest with support often times the inflammatory process is mitigated and you can heal quicker.
5. Know who to consult
If you have a physical therapist that you trust, contact them to discuss the symptoms and determine the next step. If you don’t already have one, read our article on finding the right Physical Therapist. A Physical Therapist can help guide you on the path of efficient recovery and can help address other issues that may have arisen because of the injury such as changes in the way you walk or move.
If you have made it through a week of recovery time, and are feeling stronger and less sore, then continue moving in non-painful ways and gradually add more challenging activities. Check out the Battle Born Health YouTube channel for exercise basics and progressions to get you feeling stronger and moving again.
Here are a few recommended videos that focus on the core, hips and legs which will keep you safe in the snow:
How to do a proper lunge:
How to do a proper squat:
The basics of core stabilization:
About the author: Jessica DeVore holds a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from UT Southwestern Medical Center. She lives in the Tahoe area, where she enjoys rock-climbing, backpacking, skiing, and mountain biking. As a Physical Therapist at Battle Born Health, she loves helping people restore their bodies in order to live a full and active life.