For Your Spine’s Sake, Heed Seven Summer Safety Suggestions

By Rothman at AtlantiCare Spine Surgeon Kristen Radcliff, MD

Summer is my favorite time of the year. I especially enjoy experiencing the Jersey Shore with my family and friends.

But it’s also a time that we see back injuries at AtlantiCare’s Trauma Center and Neurosciences Institute.

Most of these injuries can be avoided.

We’d much rather you be on the beach or by the pool enjoying the summer than in physical therapy or the hospital dealing with a potentially life-limiting injury – such as paralysis.

Following my seven summer spine safety tips should help you stay injury free.

1. Body surf safely.  

Body surfing is the most common cause of serious aquatic spinal cord injuries in our community.  In shallow water, a wave can quickly cause you to strike your head on the ocean floor.  These injuries can be among the most devastating. If you’re falling off of a body board, try to roll off of it sideways so that you don't flip forward and strike your head on the ocean floor. Always surf with a buddy and in lifeguard-protected areas. Refrain from diving headfirst into waves or pools. We’ve seen many cervical spine injuries result from diving.  An unexpected sandbar can cause you to strike your head on the sea floor, which could cause a neck injury.

2. Helmet your head.

Whether you’re skateboarding, bike riding, swinging a baseball bat or participating in any sport with the potential for a head injury, wear a properly fitted helmet that is appropriate for the sport.

3. Measure your ride.

Make sure your bicycle seat is at the right height for you. Visit a bike shop to have a professional check the fitting. This is especially important if you are borrowing or renting a bike. A seat that is too high or too low will cause you to maintain an abnormal posture as you keep your balance. You could develop neck pain from bending your neck backwards or back pain from bending your spine too far forward.

4. Run from impact.

Avoid running on pavement, which can create a substantial stress on the joints of your legs and back. Running on hard sand or on a wooden boardwalk is better. Always wear proper running shoes. Refrain from running barefoot. Change your running shoes every six months. Warm up properly by stretching your hamstring and back muscles before you run.

5. Size your paddleboard.

Choose the proper size paddle board. I love stand up paddle boarding. It’s a great core workout. When I first attempted this water sport, I fell into the water dozens of time. If you fall too often, try a larger paddle board. If it’s too hard to push through the water, go smaller. There are online calculators that will help you to choose the best size paddle board for your body.

6. Try beach yoga.

Yoga on the beach is an excellent form of low-impact exercise to strengthen your core and back muscles and prevent spinal injuries. If you’re doing group yoga, make sure the instructor is certified to teach yoga. Whether you have pain or you’re doing yoga or any exercise, talk with your doctor about what exercises you should be doing.

7. Position a pillow.

Use a pillow or neck roll when lying on the sand. Try to make sure that your neck is in a neutral position that is not bent forward or backward too far.