Watch Your Back


How to treat and prevent orthopedic accidents

It’s a scenario many of us know too well: We’re almost to the top of the ladder, reaching for that last branch, and the ground reaches up and grabs us instead. With all the yard and housework going on, it’s no surprise that in the last six months there has been a significant increase in the number of orthopedic injuries in the New Orleans area.

The most obvious reason for this, according to Dr. George Chimento, an orthopedic specialist practicing at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, “is that people are trying to do things they have not done for a long time, if at all. These would include ladder climbing, working at heights, heavy lifting, hauling debris and working with saws.” Another contributing factor is our mental state. “People are stressed out and emotional. And in an effort to get things done quicker,” Dr. Chimento says, “they are attempting to do things they wouldn’t normally do.” Though most of the people orthopedists are seeing are male—about 70 percent, according to Dr. Chimento—and skilled laborers, many are simply homeowners trying to rebuild.

While it may sound trite, the surest way to prevent injury is to take every safety precaution available. “When working around the house, wear appropriate work boots to provide stable footing, and gloves when working with sharp objects,” cautions Dr. Rob Sellards, an orthopedic specialist practicing at Kenner Regional Medical Center. Also, never use a ladder by yourself; make sure it’s on a flat surface and stabilized by someone else.

Though sometimes it’s impossible, try not to perform activities with which you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar. When using any type of equipment, be it a hammer, nail gun, ladder or compressor, make sure to familiarize yourself with all its functionalities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with a big job. And, as always, stay aware of your surroundings. Your work surface, your tools, the weather, your fellow workers and the animals and people who may enter your workspace all require attention. “If one does not regularly perform manual labor,” Dr. Sellards advises, “divide the work sessions into small increments to prevent overuse and injury.”

If you do find yourself with an orthopedic injury—hurt knees, shoulders, hands, feet, hips or back—there are certain steps you can take. “Generally,” Dr. Chimento advises, “if you cannot put weight on an injured leg or foot, if there is an obvious deformity of the injured part or if there is a great deal of bleeding, go to the nearest emergency room.” For less serious injuries, ice the area, use compression and elevation and rest up. If after a few days your injury hasn’t improved, and especially if it has worsened, call your physician. “Don’t ignore long-term problems or health maintenance because you have too many other things going on,” says Dr. Chimento. “Try to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.”

Exercises for relieving pain
By Beth Winkler-Schmidt

Lower back pain

Tighten abdominal muscles as if pulling your naval toward your spine and hold the pelvis in a neutral position. Hold for five breaths and repeat several times a day. This exercise will engage the muscles responsible for supporting the spine. To prevent added stress to the back, it is beneficial to do this during any strenuous lifting activity.

Sciatica (pain in buttocks that can radiate down the leg)
The sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle and can get compressed if that muscle is tight. To stretch it, assume a sitting position and cross the involved leg over the other. Lean forward until a slight stretch is felt in the hip and buttocks. Hold this stretch for five deep breaths and repeat three times.

Plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is pain in the heel that is usually worse in the morning with that first step out of bed. Common causes are tight calf muscles or overuse. It is important to stretch both calf muscles—the gastrocnemius and the soleus—to decrease the load on the plantar fascia. Support hands on a wall and assume a runner’s lunge position with the involved leg straight behind. To stretch the gastrocnemius, lunge forward with the back knee straight and hold for 15 to 20 seconds; then bend the back knee slightly to stretch the soleus. It is also beneficial to place a gel cushion in the heel of the shoe to absorb shock. Taping by a physical therapist to unload the plantar fascia is also extremely effective.

Tennis elbow
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the lateral forearm muscle/tendon where it attaches to the elbow. Gentle stretching and massage can help decrease the pain, while squeezing the hand can help strengthen the muscle-tendon junction.

Knee pain

Knee pain can be caused by abnormal loads of the different structures within or surrounding the knee joint. The general protocol for knee pain is stretching the muscles around the joint, including the hamstrings, quadriceps and iliotibial band and strengthening the VMO (the inner part of the quadriceps). One way to strengthen this muscle is to lie on your back, turn the involved leg out while keeping the knee straight and lifting the leg toward the ceiling.

These are treatments for common orthopedic disorders. If pain persists, consult your physician or physical therapist.