Brain & Spine

Ask a Doc: Avoiding Spinal Injuries this Summer

Dr. Petraglia, a neurosurgeon at Rochester Regional Health, gives safety tips for warm weather and outdoor activities.

Jun. 14, 2021 2   min read

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As the weather warms and outdoor activities become increasingly popular, the risk for physical injuries to the brain and spine also increases. Concussions and nervous system injuries are all-too-common during the summer months, as many people are playing sports, swimming and jumping on trampolines.

And as organized sports begin to return in full force post-pandemic Rochester Regional Health neurosurgeon, Dr. Anthony Petraglia said spinal injuries are some of the most frequent in his patients.

Common summer injuries

“A lot of it is not too serious,” he said, “mostly lumbar strain and sprains at the end of a long day of practice or work.”

The most common serious incidents he sees in the summer months stem from sports, diving accidents, body surfing at the beach, pools and trampolines. The rate of car and biking accidents is higher as well.

Another unexpected cause of spinal strain is house and yard work, which may be even more pronounced after a winter spent in lockdown.

“Everyone has been cooped up and they're de-conditioned,” said Petraglia. “They've been away from gyms, so when they jump into outdoor activities like landscaping, where you can easily herniate a disk.”

Precautions to take

So, what can you do to avoid injury as outdoor activities resume?

Petraglia first encourages precautions like wearing a helmet when biking, and stretching before any potentially strenuous activity.

“Core strength and conditioning exercises will help a lot,” said Petraglia. “And not just your abdominal muscles - which is what most people assume when they hear ‘core.’”

People who are less active are not necessarily at more risk for spinal injury, though.

“Body weight, and sometimes even age, has nothing to do with it,” said Petraglia. “You still see young people herniating a disk when they lift something heavy at the gym.

Do you suspect a spinal injury?

In the unfortunate event of a spinal accident or injury, it’s crucial to avoid moving the person or removing a helmet if present.

“If someone falls the wrong way or lands on their neck, go through the basic CPR measures,” said Petraglia. “Make sure they are awake or responsive, do an assessment to see if anything hurts and if they’re able to move their extremities. Then, call 911.”

With the right precautions, most spinal and brain injuries are avoidable. But a higher level of care for your body and brain during the summer months, especially, may save a life.

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