Seasonal Tips

Books? Check! Running shoes? Check! Kitchen sink? Check!

JGH News, Fall 2009

These days, especially in this back-to-school season, it seems people are lugging around just about anything and everything in their book bags. According to Sheila Maislin, JGH Chief of Occupational Therapy (Physical Medicine), many people don’t realize how harmful this can be for their backs. Here what she suggests:

  • Size: When properly adjusted, the actual pack panel of your backpack should fall between your shoulders and just above your tailbone. If the pack falls below your tailbone, your bag is too large for your body.
  • Straps: Always make sure that your backpack has two straps that are at least two inches thick and, if possible, padded. This will help reduce strain on your back and reduce the possibility of back pain.
  • Weight: “Your backpack should not weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight,” says Ms. Maislin. Any heavier and you risk putting unnecessary pressure on your back and shoulder muscles.
  • Put down your bag: A common mistake is not taking off your backpack when standing in line or waiting for the bus. If you have a chance, give your muscles a rest and put your bag on the floor beside you.

Allergies: another reason for sneezin'

JGH News, Spring 2007

Winter may be a fading memory, but for many people, the real sneezin’ season is just ahead. As warm weather returns and the greenery revives, we’ll be bombarded by pollen from budding trees (in early spring), grass (mid to late spring) and ragweed (mid to late summer). The only relief comes from trying to avoid the pollen and taking medication to ease the symptoms, says Dr. Peter Small, Chief of the JGH’s Division of Allergy and Immunology and Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University.

To stave off teary eyes and a runny nose, says Dr. Small, steer clear of the offending vegetation early in the morning when the pollen count is highest. Pollen is also less of a concern on calm days and when temperatures drop. Allergies tend to be at their worst when it’s warm and windy. As for treatment, Dr. Small says most people respond well to over the counter, non sedating antihistamines. Since this type of medication is preventive, he recommends that users start taking it before their particular pollen season begins.

Individuals who need something stronger are often prescribed cortisone nasal sprays, since side effects from inhaled steroids are virtually non-existent. However, because of the risk of serious side effects from other forms of steroid treatment, cortisone is rarely prescribed to be taken orally, and never by injection. Sufferers can also get a series of allergy shots to decrease their sensitivity to pollen. This option can be time consuming, but it does modify the allergy rather than just treating symptoms.

If you’ve never had allergies, but are experiencing what seems like a bad cold that won’t go away, or if you get a bad cold at the same time each year, you may now have an allergy. In this case, you’re advised to visit an allergist for testing. “Despite what some people believe, there’s nothing to fear,” says Dr. Small. “No injections are involved—just some superficial, painless nicks on the arm. The test is cheap, effective and fast, and it lets you know, once and for all, if you’ve really got an allergy.”

Exercise caution with summer exercises

JGH News, Summer 2007

With the arrival of hot weather, some of us think we can turn into hot athletes in no time flat. The fact is, it takes more than pleasant conditions and a lot of pent up energy to become active and avoid injury, says Dr. Ian Shrier, a sports medicine specialist at the JGH. In the same way that spring eases gradually into summer, we need time to accustom ourselves to the heightened demands of jogging, tennis, cycling, baseball and similar sports.

Dr. Shrier, an investigator in the JGH’s Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Community Studies and an Associate Professor of Family Medicine at McGill University, says individuals must find an initial level of activity that feels comfortable and safe. Once the body is used to this exertion, more can be added by slowly varying three aspects of exercise:

  • Frequency – how often exertion occurs. Despite good intentions, a daily routine may not be suitable right off the bat. Start with a couple of days per week and build from there.
  • Intensity – how much you exert yourself in each session. In other words, don’t begin by jogging up steep hills or lifting heavy weights. Start at a moderate pace and gradually increase the degree of difficulty.
  • Duration – how long each session takes. You may have been able to jog for an hour per session last summer, but that’s not the way to begin now. Try a 15 minute session for starters and then keep adding.

Dr. Shrier notes that while these basics apply to swimming, swimmers should also vary their strokes during each session—for instance, alternating between the crawl and the breast stroke.

He adds that a gradual approach is important even for individuals who were active during cold weather with activities such as skating and cross country skiing. “Your heart and lungs might be in shape,” Dr. Shrier says, “but your muscles were working in a different way during the winter. They need time to adjust to the new demands of summer sports.”

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