It’s here. Hot days and tall grass. What happened to those glorious days with temperatures in the low seventies? With the heat comes summer clothes and summer activities and summer outside jobs. And summer injuries. It may seem strange, if you’re not familiar with Orthopaedics, that different seasons have different injuries.
Winter has fractures associated with falls on icy patches, and shoulder injuries when people clean up after ice storms. The fall has football and cheerleading injuries. And band injuries too. Spring has baseball and softball injuries, and spring training football injuries.
Summer has more of the home-owner type. For instance, the injuries that come from lawnmowers. Orthopedic surgeons and therapists across the country treat the full gamut of lawnmower injuries: rotator cuff tears from too many pulls on the starter rope, shoulder dislocations, spine injuries, and fractures from riding lawn mowers that roll over, fractured bones in the hands or feet and amputated fingers and toes when they somehow find their way under the mower deck, and even tendon lacerations from accidents when sharpening lawn mower blades.
In addition to these grass-cutting related injuries, summer storms bring yard clean up injuries. Maybe a downed branch is heavier than expected and a wrist gets sprained or a muscle is pulled in the back. Just gardening itself can lead to injuries, with sacks of fertilizer weighing up to forty or fifty pounds and being awkward to handle. Many people experience back injuries that lead to severe pain from gardening. Outdoor home repair is more prevalent in summer. Crush injuries to hands when dealing with lumber, shoulder and neck strains from overhead jobs, and tendonitis from running a weed-eater are all common. Even falls from ladders are more frequent than one might think.
So, summertime has it’s own flavor for injuries. The question then becomes, what do we do about it?
Naturally, prevention comes first.
Simple things like gloves, shoes, and protective eye wear are often afterthoughts. Many people choose not to use them. Are you in this number? Just ask someone who has cut a tendon on the back of their hand, had it surgically repaired, and then undergone the lengthy process of rehab that follows if they think gloves are really needed. Ask someone who lost a couple of toes when their flip-flop slipped if proper shoes are needed. You might change your mind.
Prevention goes far beyond just using gloves, though. Many summer injuries occur when a person is not in physical condition to perform a task that they underestimate. For instance, the shoulder joint is notorious for getting inflamed when the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder are weak. These muscles get weaker and weaker when we don’t use them. Now imagine this scenario: a man in his fifties goes all winter without doing much overhead work (his rotator cuff muscles have become weak from lack of use), and then he goes out to trim the hedges on the front of his house for a couple of hours one afternoon. The next day he has terrible pain in his right shoulder, the arm he used overhead the most. It stays around for a month and he eventually has to see a doctor for the pain. This scenario might have been prevented if this fellow had been doing some strengthening exercises all winter instead of going from no activity (during the winter) to two hours of activity all at once.
Even if we are maintaining a general level of fitness, some injuries are prevented by planning. Take time to get a wheelbarrow instead of carrying heavy loads, even for short distances. Make sure your wheelbarrow is balanced before you drop that forty pound sack of fertilizer in it, too. And find another way to cut that bank besides driving your riding lawn mower across it sideways. Yes, they do turn over. And more frequently than one might think.
One more word on prevention--
Maintaining strength and stability in your shoulders and knees and back can prevent injuries, but not just any exercise will do the trick. To get instructions that are tailored to you and your specific medical history, ask your doctor to refer you to physical therapy for a customized home exercise program.
What if you’ve gotten hurt already? How do you know when to see a doctor?
Severe injuries will be painful enough to force you to go to the emergency room. Additionally, seek medical care if:
- the pain is different than you have experienced before
- the pain doesn’t go away on it’s own
- you have a lot of swelling
- you heard or felt a “pop” at the time of the injury
- you experience numbness in the injured arm or leg or in your neck or back
- you cannot move your injured arm or leg
Some overuse injuries don’t seem painful enough at first for you to even go to a doctor at all, but the pain returns anytime you try to perform a certain task. Shoulder and elbow tendonitis are very common and can be quite limiting. Prolonged use of weed-eaters, hedge clippers, or hand tools can lead to lateral elbow pain. Extensive overhead work such as painting or pruning--especially if you over do it--can lead to shoulder tendonitis or bursitis. If these conditions don’t resolve on their own within a week or two, you may need medication, injections, and physical therapy. Recovery from an “-itis” is usually quicker if an individual seeks medical care soon after the pain starts instead of trying to wait for several months for it to go away.
Yes, summertime is here. Even if it weren’t for those glorious sunny days that beckon us all to be outside, doctors and therapists everywhere would recognize the change in injuries. Don’t get the wrong message--we want you all to enjoy summer on a porch with a glass of tea after a full day of manicuring your yard. Just know we’ll be here if the tall grass gets the best of you.
Anniston Orthopaedics Associates, P.A.