Avoiding neck and back injuries

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Dr. James Moravek

Midwesterners tend to become more active in the summer months, with gardening, home projects, softball leagues and golf games beckoning us outdoors.

On the positive side, we tend to lose weight, enjoy the warm weather while we can, improve our homes and maybe grow some fresh vegetables to eat.

On the negative side, however, we may be taxing muscles that have been little used over the winter months, resulting in shoulder, back and neck pain, or worse, injuries.

“Some people come in the clinic saying, ‘I know I did something I shouldn’t have.’ The key is, then don’t do it,’” said Dr. James Moravek, an orthopaedic surgeon with MidAmerica Orthopaedics in Palos Hills specializing in sports and shoulder surgeries.

Moravek said he sees mostly shoulder injuries, at times from people who over-extend themselves or are out of shape.

Moravek said those playing softball should see how many times they can throw the ball first. While golf is a low-demand sport overall, he said he sees golfers with back problems. He said the adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” applies in these instances.

Loosen up

Moravek advised that before embarking on an activity, even doing projects around the house, you should make sure you’re fit and do a light workout that includes lifting weights and crunches beforehand.

“It’s important to keep your core strong, and leg muscles, too,” Moravek said.

He said using a balance ball to do modified pushups and other exercises is a good way to work on abdominal muscles. Moravek also suggests yoga for people whose muscles are tight, and going to a gym if you need to build your strength.

Good posture is also key in avoiding injury. When bending or lifting, use your legs instead of your back. Keep what you’re lifting close to your body. If you’re bending over a lot, such as when gardening, it’s better to be seated while doing the activity. Get someone to help with a project that could tax your body.

Treating pain

If you do injure yourself, the first step is to apply ice to the affected area. Anti-inflammatory pills like Motrin or Aleve may help relieve the pain. In some cases, the doctor may refer the patient to a therapist.

Moravek advises patients to rest during rehab, but not to be totally inactive.

“I don’t like total rest at all,” he said. “If we can pinpoint the offending activity, they can’t do that, but can do other things. If they hurt their shoulder and need to do painting, I make sure they don’t do overhead work. If they hurt their shoulder while playing softball, they can’t do that, but I’ll have them jog,” Moravek said.

He said if the patient doesn’t get better, he’ll set up an X-ray or MRI.

More information about MidAmerica Orthopaedics, 10330 Roberts Road, Palos Hills, is at (708) 237-7200 or at www.handtoshoulderclinic.com.