Dear Patients,

With all of the unfortunate changes we face as doctors and patients in chronic pain management, it is easy to forget about what we CAN control. Winter is fast approaching, so it behooves us to review some very basic but nonetheless critical self-help maneuvers. So, without further ado, here they are:
  1. Boot/Shoe Traction
    Ice is simply a part of winter in Michigan. Even when the temperature rises above freezing, residual ice often remains. A full-out fall onto concrete can lead to hip fracture, head trauma, vertebral compression fracture, or disk herniation. Even a slight sudden slip without a fall can wrench a vulnerable back and flare it up for weeks. Black ice can be particularly treacherous, as it is difficult to see and often sits below the snow.

    Grippers for the bottoms of boots and shoes are the answer to problem. Hob nails and cleats scratch and mar floors, tear carpet, etc. Composite soles made for grip don’t perform on ice. I have found that Yaktrax are the best option out there. They are easy to pull on and off, do well on ice, and are much less likely scratch/mar/tear if you forget to take them off inside. I purchase mine on-line if I cannot get them locally. Fortunately, Meijer seems to have them every year. Cost is less the twenty dollars a pair.

  2. Light It Up
    Sunlight replacement lamps can really help those of you prone to seasonal affective disorder, worsening of depression, or just the “winter blues”. As a species, we are diurnal creatures, meaning we are active in daylight. The deepest, most primitive parts of our brains still count upon sunlight to function at their best. Furthermore, our bodies we require sunlight to convert cholesterol (yes, we all have to have SOME of it!) into the hormone we refer to as vitamin D. Ever had a hormonal imbalance? How did that feel? Would you really want to have it again?
    Northern Lights is one of the original manufacturers of sunlight replacement lamps. Nowadays, there are many companies making them. Just make sure that you are buying a quality product. Before you buy, check out reviews on-line, and focus particularly on science-based reviews that report on the potency of the lamp’s bulb.
  3. Get Moving
    Exercise becomes less convenient during the winter. Even for those of us who enjoy winter, it still takes some prep time to engage in outdoor fitness. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to this issue, and I still feel that pound for pound, the best aerobic exercise for our patients is stationary recumbent cycling. Easy on the back, intensity adjustable, and reasonably priced. I bought mine used for around 150 dollars. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets it done. Cardiac scientists tell us that by combining a primary care checkup with aerobic activity sessions of moderate intensity, lasting 30-40 minutes, done four days per week, are the key to heart health for most people. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t go beyond 5 or 10 minutes when you first start cycling. Simply add 30 seconds of additional peddling each time you exercise. Inside of two months, you’ll be well on your way. I find that keeping a logbook to document time and intensity is great self-encouragement. Watching those numbers notch their way up week after week just plain feels good.

In my opinion, these are the Big Three commitments to ourselves that most all of us can make. If you have your own combination to share, I’d love to hear about it at your next appointment.

Thomas M Basch MD