What a pain

When it comes to winter injuries, occupational therapist Michele Beecher says "easily 20 percent of my caseload has been hand, wrist or finger fractures just from falling" during Rochester's winter weather.

Her early-February assessment might be a wake-up call, too, for those who've been nursing a strain that just doesn't seem to heal after they've fallen — or nearly fallen.

"We do a lot of acrobatics not to fall," said Kim Mullenbach, director of rehabilitation services for Olmsted Medical Center, where Beecher also works.

"When you go to fall, it's your reflex to extend an arm to break a fall," Beecher said.

That, Mullenbach said, can lead patients to seek her expertise, which focuses more on muscle strain. People often get injured, but delay getting treatment because they think the pain will resolve on its own.


"They work so hard not to fall because they know they might break something,  but in doing so, they quite often (injure) something, the hip flexors in front, abdominal muscles, shoulder muscles, front of the neck muscles," said Mullenbach, a physical therapist.

Often, they can't pinpoint where the injury is. 

She might begin seeing patients injured in January sometime in late spring because they've finally realized their aches and pains aren't getting better.

Also, some patients focus so much on a visible injury and its pain that they might not realize until later that they also received a neck or shoulder injury during their fall.

Most people know that bruising and other minor injuries are going to happen when you shovel snow or do other outside activities in the winter time, Mullenbach said.

But how do you know if you've done some real damage and need physical or occupational therapy?

If during the healing process your neck really hurts and you didn't have that before, that would be a good sign to get checked. Or if pain persists, or there are sensory changes from the neck and shoulder down to the elbow, see a health  professional.

Any symptoms that weren't there before, persist beyond several weeks, rate as more sharp, sensation changes with with tingling or numbness, decreased ability to use a limb, inability to sit in a car or the need to get up and move frequently should signal it's time to get checked, Mullenbach said.


When facing slick walks, parking lots and driveways, Beecher said, "I don't think it matters how good shape you are, how old or young. I don't think it matters even how good shoes."

If you think you've been injured, it's better to get checked sooner rather than later.

"People don't think about getting a whiplash from a fall. But more of my whiplashes are from falls than from car accidents," Mullenbach said

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