Spring fever is a pain in the neck

Warmer temperatures bring people outside to frolic in the sun, but spring activities can often lead to serious injuries.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health
Winter is a long slog: snowy and cold for many, merely gray and depressing for others. When the bitter winds finally relent, people get itchy, pulled by an invisible force to get their hands dirty, take a hike and ditch the treadmill for a long run outside. But months of sitting on the couch leaves many afflicted by “spring fever.” In their haste to get out there, many people end up injuring themselves, pulling muscles, breaking bones and even losing fingers and toes. Spring fever can often lead to a trip to the emergency room.
-- By John Zebrowski for MSN Healthy Living.
1 of 12 A man outside enjoying spring (© Somos/Veer/Somos/Getty Images)

Lawn mower hazards

Dr. John Tongue, an orthopedic surgeon near Portland, Ore., says that he knows spring is here when people start showing up at his office with mangled fingers and toes. The cause: an old lawnmower that ended the winter in even worse shape than its owner. The thing runs poorly and is all clogged up, often making its first spin around the yard a bloody one. Various estimates put the number of people injured by lawnmowers from 70,000 to more than 200,000 people each year. “We get folks whose great toe is cut right off,” Tongue says. “Sometimes multiple toes are chewed up. They’re really bad injuries. They’re the [harbingers] of spring. It’s like the first robin looking for the first worm.”

2 of 12 A guy mowing the lawn (© Cultura/Stephen Lux/Getty Images)

Running injuries

Anyone who watches sports knows what a hamstring injury looks like. The player sprints — either towards a base or down a sideline — and there’s a sudden jerk, as if the person has been shot in the back of the leg. No one knows how many people pull hamstrings each year, but for the home athlete, it’s occurs most often while jogging. Dr. Leon Popovitz, a New York-based orthopedist who treats many world-class athletes, says hamstring injuries are most common among those who haven’t run much and don’t stretch enough. “If you’ve been dormant over the winter, start off slow, gentle and deliberate,” he says. “I tell patients, injuries are inevitable, but our bodies are meant to move. So don’t stop. Treat it appropriately and keep moving.”

3 of 12 A man running (© Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)

Ladder casualties

If you’ve ever been the victim of a ladder fall, it may feel pretty lonely, but according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, more than 125,000 people end up in emergency rooms each year from ladder falls, an increase of more than 50 percent from 1990 to 2005. There are many reasons why, but most result from user error. People tend to keep ladders long after they’ve become unsafe and often place them on uneven ground, where they’re liable to fall over. And when they go down, the most common injury is to the ankle, where a fracture can mean more than a month on crutches. “We see a lot of falls this time of year,” said Dr. Dina Morrissey from the Injury Prevention Center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island. “When the weather gets warmer, trauma visits spike.”

4 of 12 A ladder against a house (© Temmuz/Getty Images)

Poison ivy

Whether you get it from weeding among what you thought was only pachysandra or by not paying attention during a woodland hike, poison ivy is another sign that spring has arrived. For most people, poison ivy is merely a nuisance. The good news is that with some cortisone cream or calamine lotion and a little time, everything should be fine. “The key for most people is to educate themselves on what it actually looks like,” says Morrissey. “And if you get exposed, you need to wash the area within 10 minutes with soap and water.”

5 of 12 Person working in yard (© Apeloga /Getty Images)

Weed-wacker lacerations

Weed wackers are actually pretty safe, unless you don’t use eye protection or insist on wearing shorts while using them. But these machines tend to send pebbles and sand winging away from them at great speeds, resulting in nasty leg lacerations and corneal abrasions. Dr. Paul Langevin sees a lot of these injuries in the ER at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. They often leave him shaking his head. “The thing about these types of injuries is that they’re totally avoidable,” he says. “People don’t pay attention to details. They don’t even read the directions. And then stuff happens.”

6 of 12 A person weed-wacking (© Monty Rakusen /Getty Images)

Sunburns

The sun shines all year, but it shines best in the spring. Langevin says the spring sun is one of the season’s most underrated dangers, causing not just short-term pain, but serious long-term cancer risks. Using sunscreen in summer has been drilled into most people, but they tend to leave it at home until June rolls around. “The sun is very strong in spring, especially as it turns toward summer,” says Langevin. “I get that people want to be out there and tan. But if they won’t put on sunscreen, at least take a couple aspirin beforehand, because that burn is going to hurt.”

7 of 12 A sunburnt man (©Thomas Barwick /Getty Images)

Bees

Anyone who’s been stung by a bee knows how painful it can be. For some, it can even be deadly. To a certain extent, getting stung by a bee is a matter of chance. But Morrissey says that people can still take some precautions to minimize it. “Don’t drink sugary drinks outside, because bees like to fly into them and you can get stung on the lips,” she says. “And there are a lot of bees in the grass, so I recommend not walking barefoot outside.” Don’t walk barefoot outside? Might as well cancel spring and summer altogether.

8 of 12 A bee (© ElementalImaging /Getty Images)

Trampoline traumas

Most people probably think of trampolines as child’s play. But they’ve also become a fun way for adults to bounce away a warm spring day. Like children, they’re getting injured in alarming numbers. About 100,000 people are hurt on trampolines each year, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics. The most common injuries include sprains, dislocations and fractures. One of the most gruesome is the open dislocation, which New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain suffered last spring while playing with his son. In an open dislocation, the bone punches through the skin, creating a bloody injury that can lead to amputation. “It’s what we call an orthopedic emergency, because the person needs to get into an operating room right away,” says orthopedist Popovitz. “The thing about trampolines is that a lot of people who aren’t very physically fit get that Superman feeling on one. But they have trouble planting their foot well, and when they come down bad things happen.”

9 of 12 A person jumping on a trampoline (© Peathegee/Getty Images)

Gardening injuries

Is there any more pleasant way to spend a beautiful spring day then out in the yard gardening?  Unfortunately, yard work often requires long periods of time bent over the ground pulling at things that don’t want to come out. It also demands moments of brute strength — lifting heavy stones, landscaping timbers or swinging a sledgehammer. The result is often back strain and, in the worst cases, a slipped disc, which can require surgery and put people out of commission for months. Orthopedic surgeon Tongue says back injuries from gardening are very common, especially among baby boomers. “It’s part of something I call ‘Boomeritis,’” he says. “A lot of them are unwilling to slow down, so they get hurt trying to maintain the gardens and yards they had when they were younger.”

10 of 12 A woman working in the garden (© Lilly Roadstones/Getty Images)